Accuracy in Media

One view is that standardized tests are both useful and morally neutral. Another is that by trying to hold all people to the same standards we are being biased – immoral, even. Teen Vogue falls on the wrong side of that divide in a piece headlined, “Standardized Tests and Students With Disabilities: How the SAT, LSAT, and Bar Discriminate.”

The complaint is that those with disabilities find standardized tests much harder, and is unfair because they must work harder to meet the standard or in some cases fail the test because of those disabilities.

This misses the point of standardized testing, which, in and of itself, is morally neutral. The underlying point is that none of us is fully abled, we are all a mixture of abilities at this and that, some good, some bad. So, sorry, the idea that we are all equally capable at everything if only given the opportunity is wrong. But so also is the idea that some of us are good at nothing is wrong.

Standardized testing is the attempt to find out what is this specific individual good at so as to aid in directing the path taken. For a working life doing what one is bad at is a horror, a life spent doing something one excels at is a joy. So, aiding in working out what the individual excels at, also does not, is aiding in life choices to their benefit. This is not something that is specific to students with disabilities at all – it’s something that is that rite of passage into adulthood and the choices it offers.

There is, after all, a reason why Tom Brady does the football and Larry Summers the economics – they are differently abled.

Teen Vogue is part of Conde Nast and ranks around No. 400 of news and media outlets in the U.S. It gains some 5.4 million visits a month from that position and obviously the penetration into the female teenage market is much more influential than that. But more than this, they claim their mission is to “educate the influencers of the future” which we agree is an important aim. We just don’t think they’re very good at it.

Standardized testing is not to judge some as being worthy, some as not. It’s to find out which things people are good at, not whether they’re good. To fail to explain this is to do a disservice to those about to go through that process – teenagers. The aim isn’t to slice the population into those who can and those who can’t, it’s to aid in directing to lives that will be enjoyed given the talents of the individual being tested. Worth pointing that out.

We’d also point out that this specific author at Teen Vogue has worked very hard indeed – from the story told – to beat the cards dealt. That’s an attribute that employers prize above near anything else – life does, after all, end up belonging to those who turn up and try at it. Reminding readers of that truth would be even more educational – rather than complaining about the testing which is attempting to aid in these life choices.




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