The Perpetual Consideration Of Privilege

I know it will come as no surprise, but I had pretty intense test anxiety growing up. Especially as it relates to standardized tests that carried some sort of weight for awards or decisions towards my future. Regular tests in school I did okay at because they held small individual power and were easily counterbalanced by other work and better tests, but the BIG tests that determined awards or scholarships or acceptance? THOSE GOT ME BAD.

I remember this in FIRST GRADE when my teacher had this prize store in her classroom and when the standardized test stores came back, the leader got “money” to shop in the store and when it wasn’t me I would be devastated. I also remember being told the testing is what determined who got into our version of the “gifted” class and that caused me several sleepless nights of anxiety. In general – I was good at school and it came easy to me. Not because I was smarter than anyone else, but because I had the right kind of brain to excel in our education system. But standardized testing that carried weight? WAS ALWAYS TOO MUCH.

This article recently got me thinking about that all over again. Here’s a key quote from the article:

“..researchers reported that at colder temperatures, men scored higher than women on verbal and math tests. But as a room grew warmer, women’s scores rose significantly.” 

“‘Battle of the Thermostat’: Cold Rooms May Hurt Women’s Productivity” – New York Times

My test anxiety was pretty easily surmountable by A) taking important tests like the ACT several times and doing practice classes/tests to help with the anxiety and B) getting good sleep and nutrition in advance. (Sidenote: I ABHOR THAT THESE TESTS THAT DETERMINE YOUR COLLEGE FUTURE ARE OFTEN ADMINISTERED EARLY MORNINGS.)

That article showed me how ridiculous those type of tests are if the slight variations in environment effects the outcome for people. And then, of course, the brilliant Nikole Hannah-Jones got me thinking about people who have any other sort of challenging situations in their lives or home and how it might effect their scores if something as benign as thermostat has an effect.

It’s amazing how many times I’m awaken to my own privilege because I’ve always thought tests like the ACT were a ridiculous measure of merit simply because I had to do so much to ensure they reflected my actual “merit” to counterbalance my anxiety. BUT I HAD STABILITY EVERYWHERE ELSE IN MY LIFE. In my head my test-anxiety made me one of the ones easily hurt by those stupid tests but – as usual – that was it’s own kind of privilege. I always was against standardized testing as sole deciders of “merit” because of my story but then…to see this article and then read that tweet I find myself frustrated that ANYONE still puts so much weight on these tests.

It’s just something I was thinking about a lot this weekend: standardized tests and how easily your performance can be affected by things completely unrelated to your ability to succeed academically. And conversely – how easily I was able to counterbalance my handicap of test anxiety…thanks to money and privilege. Think about all of the other ways kids can be starting off at a disadvantage before ever sitting down to take the test…and how they may not come from environments easily suited to counterbalance those setbacks. My Dad could give me test-prep books and pay for me to repeatedly take the test to get familiar with it. How easily is it to overcome food insecurities or an unstable home life?

I just like sharing here where I’ve discovered a new way to look at my own privilege and that article and Hannah-Jones comment really gave me a new light I thought I’d share with you.

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