Please Spell the Word “Standardized” (Wait, the Word Does Not Exist)

I have a task for you: (no, it won’t be physical, as the course name “Sports and the University” suggests)

Choose the pair that best expresses a relationship similar to that in the original pair:

RUNNER: MARATHON ::

  1. A) envoy: embassy
  1. B) martyr: massacre
  1. C) oarsman: regatta
  1. D) referee: tournament
  1. E) horse: stable

Think you have the right answer? Well the correct answer was C. If you found the correct answer, let me guess you are: white, elitist, and wealthy (If not, statistically speaking, you are). Didn’t get the right answer? Don’t feel too bad for yourself, as you just read the question that launched a thousand ships. Well, not actually. But, that question was responsible for removing the analogy questions section in the SAT’s, and instead replacing it with short reading passages.

kanye SATS

Okay, now if you are any normal, right-minded human being you are probably scratching your head, rereading that last paragraph, and thinking to yourself, “Huh? There’s no way that question actually had a significant impact on anything.” Well it did, because that question put The College Board under hot water for being culturally biased towards the white and wealthy. Getting the right answer assumes that the test taker is familiar with crew, a sport typically geared towards wealthy white folks. Only someone familiar in crew would be able to recognize that the answer is C. After the test was administered and graded, it was determined that 53% of white students correctly answered this question, as oppose to only 22% of African-American students correctly answered “C.”

culture bias

Now, this leads me to ask: how standardized are standardized tests? Can something actually be standardized— offering absolutely no advantage or disadvantage for any one individual, and be free of any cultural bias? Well, my answer is NO. In Louis Menand’s “Live and Learn” article he argues several theories for the goal of college. Theory 1 considers college to be a sorting mechanism that determines who in society is the most intellectually capable, by using standardized measuring scales. Education is “about selection, not inclusion.” Aside, from this theory being pretentious and elitist, I believe that it is wrong. There is no actual way to standardize anything, because there are many extraneous factors that affect standardization.

standard

 Let’s go back to the original example, the SAT’s. Okay, yes that is great and all that The College Board removed the analogy section from the SAT’s, but the fact remains that the privileged will still have the upper hand. The National Center for Education Statistics did a study of the SAT’s and looked at students of high, medium, and low socioeconomic statuses. The study found that 32% of students coming from a high socioeconomic household earned a score of 1100 on the SAT—they outperformed those with a low socioeconomic status significantly. Only 9% of students coming from a low socioeconomic household earned the same score. Wealthy students consistently and significantly outperform other students, not because they are smarter, but because they reap the benefits of having disposable money. Wealthier students can afford expensive tutors and fancy test prep services; while, students coming from more humble backgrounds barely can afford to pay the $51 test fee, let alone afford to pay for any additional prep service. Therefore, even the “standardized” test used for college admissions in the US, is not in fact standardized.

income

Alright, so we established how the SAT’s are not standardizable and geared towards the upper crust. Now, let’s move on to college. See if you agree with any of the following statements:

  1. I have taken a certain course because it is considered an “easy A”
  2. I have decided to not take a certain course because the professor was said to be a difficult grader/the course material was difficult
  3. I have been in a class where the professor has curved the grades
  4. I received a high grade on a class for any of the following reasons: it was easy, I had an easy-grader, my professor liked me and graded me leniently
  5. I have cheated on an exam and gotten away with it

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, I am reporting you for violating the code of Academic Integrity. Only kidding, but you have just proved my point: there is no such a thing as standardization! Undeniably, some universities are more rigorous than others; therefore, GPA and test scores are not equivalent across all universities. Thus when sorting mechanism become inflated, the system is no longer a reliable measure of merit. Therefore, college itself is not an accurate system in determining the most intellectually capable citizens because the process itself is skewed.

Grade-Curve-VS

So let’s continue. Our measures of standardization are: SAT’s, Universities, and job applications. Let’s get to the last method: job applications. You would think: you get a job application, fill it out, and the person most qualified gets the interview, right? Wrong! In the innovative yet provocative book, Freakonomics, economist Dr. Mullainathan sets out to see if having a very “black” name as oppose to a very “white” name, makes finding a job all the more difficult. Mullainathan sent out 5,000 resumes in Boston and Chicago, half were applicants with “white” names and half had “black” names; aside from the name changes, the resumes were identical. What he found was that the same resume, when it had an African American name, was 33% less likely than his white counterpart to land a job interview. So if a white person is looking for a job for ten weeks, an African American person will be looking for fifteen weeks. Those are five (long and hungry) weeks of unemployment!

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 10.53.37 PM

Watch the video here 

To put it briefly: standardization does not exist. Every system that exists for the purpose of doing so (i.e. the SAT’s, universities, and job applications) is flawed. A top dog and an under dog will always exist, that’s nature and reality for you.

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3 thoughts on “Please Spell the Word “Standardized” (Wait, the Word Does Not Exist)

  1. This is such a neat article! I took a Gender and Economics course last semester, and we studied how one’s name can totally make or break one’s chances of receiving a job, based on gender and race. And I agree that the SATs are not a fair way to measure one’s intelligence. English is my second language, so it took me awhile to catch up with my peers when I was young, and I don’t really have the best vocabulary. Therefore, my scores on the verbal sections were not pretty.

    A counter-argument to your article may be the role affirmative action plays in admissions. Even though certain social/economic groups may be at a disadvantage, these groups are also given support within schools and the labor force through equal opportunity employment laws, outreach campaigns, targeted recruitment, etc. Therefore, one may argue that affirmative action diminishes the disadvantages that you mention in your blog post.

    Just a thought though! I still agree that we have a long ways to go in order to achieve 100% equal opportunity.

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  2. Your article is very interesting and really got me thinking about the society we live in today. The SATs, ACTs, MCATs, GREs, DATs, OATs, LSATs, etc. all try and test your ability to succeed. But your examples will and do work for EVERY one of these tests. This brings the question of who is qualified for anything? Personally, I believe the University of Michigan does a great job with know who can and will be a “Leader and Best” in the world. Personally, I feel my essays with the main factors that got me accepted to the University. The only place on your application where your personality, attitude, and overall aptitude can be judged and determined. Essays, interviews, and recommendations need to be the main parts of job, college, and qualifying applications in the world today. Personality, passion, and dedication cannot be shown in numbers. Everyone is not an athlete and numbers should not determine a person’s ability to succeed. I feel you elaborate this point very thoroughly in this article.

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  3. I loved the flow of this blog; this was really, really well done. Probably my favorite one I’ve ever read.

    I agree with all the points in this article. I’ve always felt like standardized tests such as the ACT/SAT are more of a measure of the resources you had to help you learn (ie how good your high school was, your family’s wealth, etc.) rather than a true measurement of a person’s learning potential or intelligence.

    I guess, at the same time, that people have had a difficult time coming up with any other uniform or standard way by which to measure people. And if standardization itself is the problem, then I wonder how people will be able to expediently measure people holistically?

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