To Compromise or Clash: Students’ Identities & Standardized Tests

220px-BubblerBy Aubrey Murtha – Many of my English classmates can attest to the fact that I am kind of obsessed with understanding the ways in which a regional identity can shape us, our preferences, our beliefs, our ways of viewing the world, and even our intelligences.

A quick example:  I am from Milwaukee, so I can tell you very quickly and easily what a bubbler is. Someone from out of state may not understand this term because Milwaukee lingo is not one of their intelligences.

I read a book in my education class freshman year (forgive me, Dr. Miller, for I remember not what the title was) that recognized regional or environmental differences as factors that can inhibit a student’s ability to understand a certain topic. I remember that the book criticized the SAT and ACT test writers for writing tests that do not account for such differences.

It included the example of a geometry word problem asking for the angle at which the steps descend from the floor of a front porch to the ground. Students who live in areas where crime is prevalent and it is far too dangerous to spend time sitting outside may not have front porches, and therefore, may already be at a disadvantage when answering this question because they cannot visualize the reference.

Based on this example, it is obvious that environment can impact the way our students perceive and interpret information. How do we address this as their teachers?

This is a really tricky task. We want students to embrace their individual backgrounds and explore their personal intelligences, but it would be nearly impossible to teach lessons and write tests that are individually tailored to each student and his or her identity, upbringing, and neighborhood environment.

Can we draw upon regional similarities to close the more specific environmental gaps? When teaching Milwaukee students, can I use the fact that we are, for example, all Wisconsinites to establish commonalities while at the same time avoiding language that isolates learners? Is it possible to write national standardized tests that are not biased and do not include language that limits some students? Could we have regionalized standardized tests that are nationally recognized by colleges and universities as a sufficient addition to an application for acceptance, or is even this specification still too general to assess, for example, all Midwestern students?

I’m not so sure. These are the questions we must ask ourselves as educators in modern America.  Any thoughts?

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