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Whom Should Students Read On Standardized Tests: Plato Or Bernie Sanders?


Across America, it’s becoming increasingly common for school districts to advance alternative versions of American history that focus almost exclusively on the nation’s faults rather than its exceptionalism. Even elite preparatory academies like Manhattan’s Brearley and Dalton schools are instituting “critical race theory” curricula that define people by race rather than character.

At the same time, schools have forgone the study of great authors like Homer, Horace, Dante Alighieri, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky — luminaries whose ideas transcend race, sex, gender identity, religion, and ethnicity. Worse, this hollowing out and politicization of education now extends beyond the schools. Often it is aided — even initiated — by standardized testing.

Parents, students, and teachers know nothing drives most curricula more than what is on the test. The content on exams like the ERBs in lower school, and the SAT, ACT, and AP as students get older, determine what and how information is taught in thousands of schools across the nation.

The most influential testing companies have become active and overtly biased participants in today’s most heated controversies. In the process, they have deprived countless young people of true education — an education that challenges minds and forms souls by bringing students into an open conversation with the greatest thinkers and writers in history.

By far the biggest standardized test maker in the world is the College Board, creator of the SAT. In the class of 2020 — a class that graduated amidst a global pandemic and mass school and testing center closures — 2.2 million students took the SAT at least once. The College Board has both followed and exacerbated the movement to hollow out and politicize education.

In drafting the SAT, the College Board works assiduously to remove any reading samples that are deemed “controversial.” That means removing any of the so-called dead white males of the past, leaving students with little more to wade through than dry scientific texts or reading samples from prominent left-wing politicians.

Case in point: a recent SAT included an op-ed by self-identified socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, while classical texts by Plato or Socrates, or even contemporary literature by Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are regularly excluded, deemed “triggering” and too much for soon-to-be-adult students to bear.

The College Board also runs the Advanced Placement, or AP, exams, which high school students can take to demonstrate preparedness for college and receive college credit. So when the College Board created a new framework for the A.P. U.S. History exam rife with leftist bias — including whitewashing critical moments like John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill” speech, undermining broad intellectual ideas like 19th-century Manifest Destiny, and distorting events like the Cold War as a battle for the “military-industrial complex” rather than a stand against a looming Soviet threat — secondary schools throughout America were pressured to change their teaching to conform.

As such, students will no longer grapple with the idea that history is full of complicated and nuanced ideas, some of which may not comport with contemporary perspectives. Rather, complexity has been removed from the curriculum altogether.

More recently, the testing giant announced a plan to impose so-called “adversity scores,” rating students according to their perceived privilege regardless of the results of their aptitude test. Within months, the plan was rescinded after intense public backlash.

The College Board president who pushed the SAT to adopt adversity scores is the same man who concocted the dramatically unpopular Common Core, yet another top-down attempt to strip education of meaningful substance through nationally standardizing curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Make no mistake, the College Board hasn’t abandoned its activism after the failure of the adversity score. Just last year, it announced a new National Recognition award that excludes some students based solely on the color of their skin.

When standardized tests take up the latest political fad, the credibility of the test suffers, doing a disservice to the students and families who desire a true education. Tests permeated with meaningless content and thinly veiled propaganda will train little more than superficial activists.

To help form real people of strong character, assessments should overflow with beauty, goodness, truth, and depth. That’s the direction we need to be headed.