Equality and Equity
Debate over whether standardized testing is an adequate measure of student success is centered around the idea of test equity. Standardized testing has one main purpose and that is to compare and assess students based on one standard. If every student does not receive the same opportunity to receive a high score, then the test is not equitable. Therefore, if test equity is not achieved then the test scores are not valid for comparison and cannot be used to measure student achievement.
If some students face hurdles and disadvantages in testing that others do not, it is unjust to compare the two groups of scores. Students should take a test that matches their culture and lifestyle so that they have the ability to perform at their best. Robert Green’s “The Impact of Standardized Testing on Minority Students” demonstrates how test inequity has always harmed minority students. Green argues that the method of giving every single student the same standardized test with little to no exceptions is not fair. The method is equal but equitable. A minority student who speaks English as his or her second language is held to the same standard as a white child who has been exposed to only English since birth. A poor student is expected to have the same common knowledge as a wealthy student despite a clear difference in life experiences. James W. Popham’s “Using Standards and Assessments” gives a good example of common knowledge placing low income children at a disadvantage. The sixth grade test item reads “A plant’s fruit always contains seeds. Which of the items below is not a fruit?” The choices are orange, pumpkin, apple, and celery. The test item provides enough information to let the students know that they need to identify which of the choices does not have seeds. If a child has been exposed to all of these foods, then their outside knowledge would lead them to the answer easily. However, if a student for whatever reason, economic or just by chance, had never encountered one or more of the fruits, then they would be unable to answer that question. That is not their fault or their teacher’s fault yet they are being penalized for it. The questions on the page are equal but the opportunity for every student to get the right answer is not.
Others, who claim that giving the same test to every student makes the tests equitable, often mistake test equity for test equality. James Aycock illustrates this misunderstanding in his article, “Teacher Voice: In Defense of Standardized Testing.” Aycock argues that every test and testing method has to be identical. This is because standardized tests are vital in determining what students know. The scores from tests give teachers the insight they need to determine what skills their students have mastered and which still need work. Since all students received the same test, teachers are able to make generalizations about the student body based on the scores. According to this mindset, it is okay that minority students or lower class schools may produce lower scores than their wealthy majority counterparts. He argues that the tests are equitable because they are identical but the education leading up to the tests is not. However, by Aycock’s own definition, the tests are not equitable. It is nearly impossible to give hundreds of thousands of students an identical test where no child has advantages or disadvantages due to factors such as class or race. The tests that Aycock describes as vital do achieve test equality but do not achieve test equity.
To further demonstrate the important different between equity and equality, take the Interaction Institute for Social Change’s “Equality vs. Equity Scenario.” There are two people standing in front of a fence trying to watch a baseball game. They are both given one crate to stand on which makes one of them able to see over the fence while the other is still too short. This is equality since they are being given equal treatment. In the second image, the taller man keeps his one crate while the shorter man receives two crates. Now, both men are at the same height and able to view the game. This is equity because both men are receiving the same opportunity to watch the game. The treatment is fair and impartial. In the context of standardized testing, these definitions are upheld. Giving all students the same exact test, despite language, class, and other barriers that may help or hinder their scores, is test equality not test equity. Test equity is achieved when all students are given the same opportunity to receive a high score with their differences taken into account.
All in all, test equity and test equality are two completely different things and the importance and value of each will be important in determining the future of standardized testing. Having true test equity would mean ensuring that every student has the chance to receive a passing score with hard work. The test itself should not determine whether a student passes, the knowledge of the student should make that determination. Test equity also helps to lower the devastating effects of high stake testing. As of today, where test equality is achieved but not test equity, thousands of lower class and minority communities are suffering. Lower scores are more prevalent in those communities which means less funding and less academic progression for the students. Every community receives the same test, so the higher class communities prevail while the lower class minority communities suffer. With true test equity, tests would be more accommodating to the culture and dialect differences between groups. Therefore, all students would be capable of receiving the same score and only their knowledge would dictate the final grade.
Aycock, By James. “Teacher Voice: In Defense of Standardized Testing.” SCORE. N.p., 20 May 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Green, Robert L., and Robert J. Griffore. “The Impact of Standardized Testing on Minority Students.” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 49, no. 3, 1980, pp. 238–252.
Macguire, Angus, and IISC. “Illustrating Equality VS Equity.” Interaction Institute for Social Change. IISC, 01 June 2016. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
Popham, James W. Using Standards and Assessments. 6th ed. Vol. 56. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1999. 8-15. Print.