Why Standardized Testing Hurts Wealthy Kids

ray-diffleyRay Diffley
Director of Admission
Choate Rosemary Hall, CT
Member of AISAP Board of Directors

Someone told me my blog articles make too much sense and generally folks agree with them so there’s little chance I’m going to stimulate much discussion. With that, I’m not just titling this article to be controversial…I’d like to float a thought for reaction. I use the terms wealthy vs. poor but realize better terminology might be advantaged vs. disadvantaged (that’s another blog article!)

standardized-testingThe other day a girl from a wealthy town and a private school was saying how she took the SSAT 4 times and had to achieve a 90% or above to feel like she would be competitive at the schools to which she was applying. I thought that was interesting (and perhaps true) because I often hear admission officers juxtapose wealthy vs. poor kids in the following way when it comes to testing:

If a wealthy child (presumably with college educated parents, a household with books on the shelves, and surrounded by other smart kids and in a good school system with access to test prep and guidance) “should” (is supposed to) have strong test scores, how can they possible “win” (be seen as smart and a sufficiently competitive applicant to selective schools) if they don’t?

If a poor child has weak test scores…there are good reasons to discount those (at least I have heard many times and seen this as truth in outcomes) and look to other factors for success indicators. If a poor child has strong test score well then usually there is little doubt they are authentically smart, right?

So when a parent from a wealthy background walks into my office and says their child has strong grades, weak test scores but did no prep and that they do not believe in multiple test taking and test prep companies…how might one look at that case?

Therefore I ask, are standardized tests hurting wealthy kids?

  • D.W.Leek

    I don’t believe it’s the test that’s hurting the child, but parental and school expectations surrounding the test, which puts undue pressure on the student. “Poor” kids can feel the same way if they are imbued with the competitive nature which suggests that 90% or higher is successful, you must be the best, or win at all costs.
    The more interesting question is “How do admissions officers view wealthy children (presumably with college educated parents, a household with books on the shelves, and surrounded by other smart kids and in a good school system with access to test prep and guidance), who have taken the SSAT 4 times and haven’t scored in the 90% or higher?

    • Ray

      Well said. I suggest with the title of the blog, that kids in exactly the situation you pose are indeed hurt by the test because they are viewed poorly by admission officers, but I welcome opinions from the field on the matter. Many admission officers will not answer the question but rather reply with the classic “it depends.” The problem indeed can start at the very beginning however…with a complete overestimation of the predictive power of any test. Just as you say, it’s the expectations that need some calibrating.

  • secarter

    All the test prep in the world and all the money in the world and all the wealthiest and enriching schooling in the world doesn’t help kids with test anxiety.

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