The Wrong Answer Project
Reimagining high-stakes testing
Chances are you’ve taken at least one high-stakes test in school or in the pursuit of higher education. These tests include the SAT, ACT, GRE, and MCAT, and ultimately lead to decisions that can change a person’s life—offering opportunities to those who perform well, but closing doors to those with lower scores. Yet not everyone has the best experience with these tests, especially members of minority groups. Why? Because these tests weren’t designed for them.
In my informal conversations with family and friends about educational testing, the majority expressed negative perceptions of testing and hoped for change, for something “better.” These perspectives inspired me to create The Wrong Answer Project, an interactive theatrical experience and social action campaign highlighting the systemic racism, classism, and elitism present within current high-stakes educational testing.
Studies show that the current testing system acts as a barrier.—Darius Taylor
The project is centered around one big question: Why are we still implementing the same assessment system that perpetually contributes to the academic achievement gap? Studies show that the current testing system acts as a barrier for Black, Native American, and impoverished students, as well as English language learners and other marginalized groups.
The interactive experience for audience members of The Wrong Answer Project begins as they are led into the theater and down a staircase, where they are met with a chorus singing the old African American spiritual “This May Be the Last Time.” At the bottom of the stairs, two police officers tell them to put their hands up as they walk through a metal detector and into the theater. This puts the audience members in the place of Americans with a lower socioeconomic status.
After the media and performance components conclude, we invite the audience to join us for reflection and dialogue. Participants are invited to write responses to questions posted throughout the theater, including:
- What does race/ethnicity have to do with how you perform on high-stakes tests?
- What is equity?
- What does equity-centered design look like?
This exercise is followed by small group discussions led by dialogue facilitators. It’s an opportunity for anyone to hold the mic and speak up about what they believe assessments centered around all voices would look like.
While tests are one part of the conversation, they also highlight larger disparities and the need for the reimagination, reevaluation, and reassessment of the American K–12 education system to create more equitable learning experiences and access to opportunities for everyone. I created The Wrong Answer Project to begin and to fuel those critical conversations and to show the importance of having the entire community involved. The project offers a taste of what happens when you give everyone a seat at the table. We’ve had administrators, family members, teachers, and students who had just taken a high-stakes test all in the room together discussing their experiences and suggesting changes for the better.
Now, with the coronavirus pandemic making such a huge impact on education and testing, there is no greater time to design, develop, and evolve the education system so it works for all.
This essay reflects the views of its author and is not an official stance of the UMass Magazine editors or the university.
Shifting views of standardized testing
Starting in spring 2021, UMass will make standardized tests optional for applicants for the next three years. James Roche, vice provost for enrollment management, cites safety issues with administering tests during the pandemic, and acknowledges that “This is especially true for students who already encounter barriers in pursuit of a college education, including underrepresented minority, first-generation, and low-income students.”