Class bias and ‘standardized’ testing

January 10th, 2006 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

You couldn’t make it up. Greg Palast draws attention to some of the questions on the standardized test for third-grade students in New York. Or, rather, since the test is currently taking place, the official practice test:

The year 1999 was a big one for the Williams sisters. In February, Serena won her first pro singles championship. In March, the sisters met for the first time in a tournament final. Venus won. And at doubles tennis, the Williams girls could not seem to lose that year.

And here’s one of the four questions:

The story says that in 1999, the sisters could not seem to lose at doubles tennis. This probably means when they played

  • A two matches in one day
  • B against each other
  • C with two balls at once
  • D as partners

As Palast rightly notes, tennis is a very classed sport, and will be far more familiar to some students than others. A question further on in the test draws out this point more clearly:

Most young tennis stars learn the game from coaches at private clubs. In this sentence, a club is probably a

  • F baseball bat
  • G tennis racquet
  • H tennis court
  • J country club

That’s right – a test for third graders (that’s 8-year olds) has a question about country clubs. Talk about making the class bias of testing obvious…

Of course, this was just the practice test, so it remains to be seen exactly how the actual test measures up.

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