“Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black minds and legally exclude their bodies”
~Ibram X. Kendi
The start of a new academic year, brings the promise of high-stakes standardized tests for all students. Educators are duty bound to ensure that our students are prepared to meet the rigors of a wide, unimpressive array of tests by endlessly drilling – the sad, yet telling, 21st Century form of teaching. The annual aftermath of the vicious cycle of standardized testing results in administrators and teachers being deeply disappointed, unfairly maligned and held solely accountable for our students’ annual, less than stellar performance ratings. Just as in life where nothing is certain but death and taxes; in formalized schooling, the only two certainties are testing and mis-education. To opt-out of high-stakes testing is rare. To believe in the accuracy and cogency of these #RacistAF litmus tests of one’s intelligence is at best, naive/clueless and at worst, disingenuous . . . dependent upon the source. We, the people, are collectively at fault for allowing a form of systemic racism, overt classism and oppression to exist and increasingly thrive for centuries. Though many will attest that academic tests are scientific and were uniquely designed to promote objectivity, this is a widespread myth. There is no more fitting portrait of the abject failure of standardized testing to determine one’s intellect and to serve as a weapon of institutionalized oppression than to examine history.
In 1869, Charles Darwin’s cousin, English statistician and pioneer of the western eugenics movement, Francis Galton, hypothesized in Hereditary Genius that “the average intellectual standard of the negro race is some two grades below our own”. As proof of the overarching acceptance of this racist notion, universal college entrance board exams were adopted in 1900 to monitor students’ progress in specific curricular areas, assess American education overall and to complement the wide variety of government policies designed to expressly benefit the elite class of society. In 1904, the French minister of public education tasked noted psychologist, Alfred Binet, with the development of the very first standardized test of intelligence. This was a feat which would eventually be incorporated into a version of the modern IQ test, dubbed the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. Using a scientific study involving his two adolescent daughters – Binet later refined his theory of intelligence and in collaboration with his doctoral mentee, Theodore Simon, the two created an arbitrary measure of intelligence commonly referred to as the Binet-Simon scale. Even a condensed reference to the troubling history of the racist foundation of academic testing, like the Binet-Simon scale of intelligence, is relevant because it demonstrates the degree to which age-old assessment measures are used to perpetuate centuries-old social stratifications of wealthy, Whites as educated landowners and all other people as interminably oppressed.
Standardized tests are nothing more than arbitrary measures devised using White, female subjects as the norm and are imminently unqualified to assess the absolute undocumented genius of Black and Brown people the world over. In Binet’s own words, he was charged with creating an academic admissions test to regulate the formal inclusion of what he referred to as “subnormals”(also referenced as defective and/or retarded children), in schools after “being subjected to a pedagogical and medical examination from which it could be certified that because of the state of his intelligence, he was unable to profit, in an average measure given in the ordinary schools” (Binet, p.9, 1916). In terms of the non-politically correct and highly offensive terminology used to delineate those deemed to possess lesser intelligence? Binet outlined the use of “idiot as applied to the lowest state, imbecile to the intermediate and moron to the state nearest normality” (Binet, p.9, 1916). To be clear, a state of normalcy was only conferred upon those who comprised (or were deemed in close proximity to), people of European descent. These crude distinctions, though admittedly not understood in the same way by all practitioners, were ascribed to each student’s corresponding academic record of certificates to duly classify one throughout life. Moreover, the varying nomenclatures of the past in combination with the modern-day, vast disparity of academic test performance as driven by race and class – represents the grave imprudence and woeful inaccuracy of intelligence tests. Given Binet’s admitted stance that intelligence testing was limited, subject to variability and was not generalizable, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that the significance that standardized testing wields in the U.S. today, is vital to its function as a weapon to promote and legitimize the insidious myth of White supremacy.
Academic testing, like tracking, was traditionally favored as a means to avoid wasted resources on the race/class deemed unfit or otherwise relegated to servicing the needs of the wealthy, White elite. Thus in 2018, our continued allegiance to and widespread use of traditional academic tests of intelligence; despite evidence to the contrary to prove that they lack both precision and applicability outside of 19th Century, European culture – is an unforgivable crime against all of humanity. Inarguably, standardized test scores highlight only the grave disparities in race and socioeconomic privilege in American society. There can be no uniform method of academic testing devoid of fundamental flaws. By nature, people are as diverse as the day is long. Therefore, arbitrary measures of intelligence, used by either past or modern eugenicists to denote a permanent racial hierarchy are dated, overtly racist and have no place in 21st Century pedagogy. To the extent that colleges have begun to apply the research-based best practice of either diminishing the importance of, or eliminating the power of standardized tests altogether, in their admission decisions is instructive to the whole of society. Furthermore, since a single, standardized measure of intelligence created from the scientific study of the innate genius of Black minds would undoubtedly eradicate all modern illusions of White superiority – then an arbitrary scale derived from the use of White people is equally unacceptable.
Children, adults – ALL people, are innately gifted, uniquely crafted and should never be expected to conform to antiquated, cookie-cutter, standardized images of intelligence. What Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Alfred Binet or Theodore Simon deemed as academically proficient is in fact racist to the core and unfit as a universal metric. Current educational policy reforms must be inclusive of an immediate de-emphasis upon (and the progressive removal of), standardized tests. Any reforms devoid of this non-negotiable, best practice operate only as an exercise in futility. In the interim, the same way that affluent Whites have long opted their own children out of flawed, demeaning and falsely representative standardized testing results – as a means of exercising their privilege and influence – all parents must duly exercise their right to uphold an uncompromising #EducateToLiberate standard of justice and equality by refusing to subject our children to the inhumanity of high-stakes academic tests. After all, the very idea of an achievement gap or even the notion of academic excellence, when based upon the inherently biased gauge of an ACT, SAT or countless other standardized, high stakes assessments are a misnomer. We must comprehensively eschew our dependence upon academic testing as it is a weapon of the racist, elite class to sustain racial hierarchy and universally accepted norms of oppression. Instead, let us commit to truly valuing the immeasurable diversity of all people by affirming our uniquely viable forms of genius in every form. Asé