To the list of biases that standardized tests are accused of, we can now add: a bias against kids who don’t watch television. The most recent SAT included an essay question on the topic of reality TV, which apparently flummoxed kids who don’t watch reality shows or immerse themselves in pop culture.
Most revealing was the testing company’s defense of the question. “The primary goal of the essay prompt is to give students an opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills,” one company executive said. “Everything you need to write the essay,” another explained helpfully, “is in the essay prompt.”
Set aside these executives’ willful blindness to the whole idea of bias. (Apparently there would be no gender bias in a question about football scoring, for example, as long as the “prompt” explained how football scoring worked.) It is probably true that virtually any essay would tell you something about the author’s writing ability. But what a strange conception of writing these tests embody. “It doesn’t matter whether you know anything about the topic, or whether you have anything to say. Just demonstrate your writing skills!”
Take any human quality, dumb it down until it’s unrecognizable, and you can measure it. Hardly the principle to build an educational system on, but here we are.
Here’s one teacher’s take on the kind of teaching these tests produce.