New York Times op-ed blasts petition to eliminate standardized tests in order to combat racism

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The New York Times published an opinion article Saturday that argued against the elimination of standardized tests in order to uphold racial equity principles. 

The piece, written by John McWhorter, said that differences in racial outcomes do not prove that the test itself is inherently racist, and hence, do not prove that the test should be abolished. 

“The Association of Social Work Boards administers tests typically required for the licensure of social workers. Apparently, this amounts to a kind of racism that must be reckoned with,” McWhorter wrote.

He cited a Change.org petition that stated, “based on the claim that the association’s clinical exam is biased because from 2018 to 2021 84 percent of white test-takers passed it the first time while only 45 percent of Black test-takers and 65 percent of Latino test-takers did.”

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The petition stated that because more White test-takers passed the first time taking the test compared to Black and Latino test-takers, the test was racially biased. 
(Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

“These numbers are grossly disproportionate and demonstrate a failure in the exam’s design…assertion that the problem lies with test-takers only reinforces the racism inherent to the test,” the petition continued. 

“The petitioners add that the exam is administered only in English and its questions are based on survey responses from a disproportionately white pool of social workers,” McWhorter wrote. “But the petition doesn’t sufficiently explain why that makes the test racist. We’re just supposed to accept that it is.”

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The New York Times building on 8th Avenue in New York City.

The New York Times building on 8th Avenue in New York City.
(DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

“The petitioners want states to eliminate requirements that social workers pass the association’s tests, leaving competence for licensure to be demonstrated through degree completion and a period of supervised work,” he continued. 

He criticized the “fashionable ideology of our moment” which he argued encourages people to “think it’s somehow antiracist to excuse Black and brown people from being measured by standardized testing.”

He noted that similar arguments have been made regarding applications to the New York City Fire Department, state bar exams, and teaching positions.

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads "Defund the police" during a protest march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and other groups, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in New York.

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads “Defund the police” during a protest march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and other groups, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in New York.
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

He argued the disproportionate test outcomes in no way prove the test itself is racist. 

“If there were clear evidence of this, presumably the petitioners would have outlined it in order to make their case,” he wrote. “But the petition doesn’t prove the exam’s design is fatally flawed and doesn’t show which test components are out of bounds. We must address this problem more constructively.”

McWhorter argued there are class differences that influence the behavior and educational outcomes of middle class people versus working class people, including both Blacks and Whites, and that changes need to be made in communities in order to narrow achievement gaps. 

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He also noted that, “among social workers, Black people are overrepresented — over 20 percent as of 2017 — in relation to our proportion of the population, which hardly suggests an obstacle to Black participation in the profession.”

McWhorter, who himself is African American, is a professor at Columbia University. Last year, he authored “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.”

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