Hiding behind high-stakes testing: Meritocracy, objectivity and inequality in U.S. education


  • Wayne Au, PhD University of Washington, Bothell


high-stakes testing, inequality, meritocracy, standardised testing, assessment subjectivity


This paper analyses how high-stakes, standardised testing became the
policy tool in the U.S. that it is today and discusses its role in advancing an
ideology of meritocracy that fundamentally masks structural inequalities
related to race and economic class. This paper first traces the early history
of high-stakes testing within the U.S. context, focusing on its deep-rooted
connections with eugenics and IQ testing in schools. It then turns to the
more recent history of high-stakes testing, highlighting the ways that race
and class inequality, as well as the ideology of meritocracy, manifest in
the United States today as part of a legacy of inequality.