LAU: Data clashes with claims of ‘white supremacy’ in standardized testing

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If I get a speeding ticket for exceeding the speed limit by 50 kilometres per hour in a residential zone, I plan to inform the police officer that the institution of policing, the radar guns, and even the posted speed limit are all manifestations of white supremacy. That’s sure to have the ticket withdrawn.

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I take my cues from a handful of those in the esteemed social class of public educators. Some context: earlier this fall, the Education Quality and Accountability Office, which is arms-length of the Government of Ontario, released the latest standardized test results. As they have over the past decade, reading and writing scores fluctuated, but math scores continued their steady downward march.

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In 2021-22, only 59 per cent of Grade Three students met provincial standards in mathematics, down from 60 per cent in 2018-19 and 67 per cent in 2012-13. Among Grade Six students, only 47 per cent met provincial standards in mathematics, down from 50 per cent in 2018-19 and 57 per cent in 2012-13.

Perhaps in anticipation of such dismal results, in the weeks ahead of the EQAO results release, the Toronto District School Board launched what might be seen as a series of pre-emptive strikes, giving presentations denouncing standardized testing as an example of “white supremacy in K-12 mathematics education.”

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A member of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s executive staff, with similar ideas in mind, wrote in the union’s magazine that standardized testing is “biased towards upper-middle class white test-takers” and suggested that “EQAO tests are culturally and racially biased, promoting a Eurocentric curriculum and way of life that privileges white students.”

That administering standardized tests to measure student achievement is a manifestation of white supremacy is an interesting claim, but a little dubious. In the first place, if white racists are trying to use standardized testing to promote the idea that the white race is somehow superior to others, they’re doing a rather poor job. Students from many different racial backgrounds outperform white students (on average) on these tests.

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The Peel District School Board reported last year, for example, that a higher proportion of students from East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern and multiple racial backgrounds reached the provincial standards in Grade Three mathematics than white students. Data in previous years and from other school boards, such as Toronto and Grand Erie, also show Asian students on average significantly outperforming white students in EQAO mathematics tests.

Survey data cast further doubt on the theory that standardized tests are tainted by white supremacy. In January a poll (conducted by Leger and published by the Fraser Institute) found 84 per cent of parents of children in K-12 schools supported having their children write standardized tests, including 92 per cent of immigrant parents. Unless we’re prepared to conclude that 84 per cent of Canadians and an even higher proportion of immigrants support white racist activities, we may have to conclude the tests are not racist.

On second thought, if I am pulled over for speeding, it may not help to inform the police officer that the resulting ticket is a manifestation of white supremacy. More likely, the police officer would regard me as an idiot. Similarly, reasonable people might regard as inordinately dumb the idea that standardized testing has anything to do with white supremacy.

— Matthew Lau is an adjunct scholar with the Fraser Institute.

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