Photo credit: Texas Education Agency

Standardized Testing and Discrimination

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4 mins read

Standardized testing in Texas has a history of leaving minorities behind.

The Texas Testing System: A History 

The implication that the standardized testing system may have some discriminatory links is far from a new one. In “In fact, if you flash back to about 15 years ago to 2007, you’ll find an article by Fairtest.org documenting a lawsuit where parents showed research to suggest that the testing instructions for the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) had an inherent racial bias to them. Distributed from 1991 to 2001, the TAAS exam, according to a Harvard study, about twice as many Black and Hispanic students (in comparison to white students) failed to finish their exit exam.  An Emory university lawyer and psychologist Prof. Martin Shapiro stated that the testing system used by Texas relied on using items with the “highest correlation values,” which meant that minority students (who already tested low) were further harmed.

“Because minority group students typically perform less well on the test as a whole,” Fair Test.org states. “The effort to increase reliability also increases bias against minorities.”

The STAAR Test 

The TAAS test was eventually taken away, and in turn, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test was implemented, which was subsequently replaced with the STAAR test in 2011, a test designed to be more meticulous and focused on measuring college readiness. The STAAR exam faced its own issues when initially implemented for its difficult, more rigorous nature. However, the same issue of minorities being left behind in testing continues to show itself. 

 According to the 2021 STAAR exam analysis, Black students who had a quarter or less in person classes had a 6% drop in Reading and 28% drop in Math. Hispanic students with a quarter or less in person classes had a 10% drop in Reading and a 34% drop in Math. White students however, had a 4% drop in Reading and 15% drop in Math. Prior to the pandemic beginning, STAAR exam scores had been improving with only 25% of students failing to meet standards in 2019 (a decrease from 26% in 2018), rising to 34% in 2021. It could be argued that, in light of the pandemic the students scores are likely to even out when they go back to in person classes. However, even the Black and Hispanic students who were able to attend in person classes took a hit, particularly with their Math scores (a 12% drop for Black students and a 10% drop for Hispanic students). According to the Texas Tribune, making up for the education missed could take some time.

Solutions: How To Close The Disparity Gap 

So, what can be done to challenge the issue of testing bias? Well, discontinue standardized testing in the state of Texas. As the Dallas Observer points out, students who are economically disadvantaged are less likely to have resources available to help fill in what’s missing in the classroom. School districts can be overworked and understaffed, so they may not able to catch gaps in knowledge and help students who are struggling. Parents may not be able to help their children because of their own lack of knowledge, and the time that they spend in school may be the only window where they can get valuable help (and even this is dependent on the teacher). But, redirecting resources to help disadvantaged students get access to things like laptops, improving after school tutoring and providing better textbooks could do far more to offer academic readiness than a standardized test provided to students across different Districts with different households and socioeconomic statuses.

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