Op-Ed: Standardized testing maintains systemic racism in public schools

Op-Ed: Standardized testing maintains systemic racism in public schools
WCCUSD Board of Education Trustee Consuelo Lara greets the Alternative Education class of 2019. Photo credit: WCCUSD

By Consuelo Lara

The destructive effects of standardized testing have been verified from numerous studies.  These tests have a long connection with the stigmatizations of children of color and children of poverty. These tests have been used to label, sort and segregate students, schools and even teachers.  We have been convinced that this was simply always the norm, and it begun in the year 2001  since the No Child Left Behind Act, which was put into place by Republican President George Bush in an effort to follow a educational path in which only the most “qualified” survive and the rest are, in spite of the name, left behind.

Other racist policies Race to the Top (2009), Common Core, and Smarter Balance proved no better in providing nurturing individualized education then No Child Left Behind. The achievement gap has been widened; the quality of teaching lowered because teachers are required to simply “teach to the test.” The fact that there has been no improvement in the achievement of children of color is proof of their failure.  

The only purpose these tests were meant to fulfill was the maintaining of the status quo; to create more power to those who would prefer to keep children of color from succeeding academically; and, finally, to control the direction of public-school policies. Test results are weaponized when the scores of children of color are compared to white students attending predominantly white schools in wealthier neighborhoods, creating underlying racist assumptions and utilizing labels such as “failing students” attending “failing schools” with “failing” teachers. 

These tests have been shown to amplify harm to children including damaging self-esteem; creating self-doubt, low student engagement and a hatred of school. Besides the psychological harm, these tests deny students access to high quality education. They are used to deny students into the Gifted and Talented Programs. The students become prone to being retained to repeat grades, receiving “dumbed” down curriculum, being denied diplomas, and being pushed to drop-out. They create severe inequities, additionally hurting low-income, English Learners, and Special Ed students. There are many organized efforts and protests to end this testing from teachers, students and parents it is called the Opt Out Movement.

A common consensus amongst teachers is that Standardized tests, with their needlessly competitive and oppressively hierarchical nature, are not accurate, a waste of valuable instructional time, create pressure to just teach curriculum centered only on the tests and they hurt high quality teaching in the process.  Teachers feel punished, have low job satisfaction, and leave the profession. It was even once proposed to tie teacher salaries to test results! High quality teaching has been replaced by “effective teaching” which just means to teach the test and to score high points, like a computer program.   

Ibram X. Kendi, of the The Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University and author of How to be an Antiracist, states: “Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to object objectively degrade black minds and legally exclude their bodies.”

Historically these tests were created by eugenics scientists who believe that genetic inferiority in humans could be proven through testing. This dates back to 1916. These racist tests are used to maintain elitism by stigmatizing and segregating students, schools and neighborhoods. So, when you hear policymakers demanding more and more data, and metrics, they are perpetuating the use of this dehumanizing weapon, clearly aimed at people of color, of low income and with special needs. The only good type of standardized testing out there that we should pursue is no standardized testing. We must cease and desist these oppressive practices of Standardized Testing in our Public Schools and save public education in the process.

Consuelo Lara is a San Pablo resident, a retired West Contra Costa Unified School District teacher and a member of the West Contra Costa School District Board of Education.