How Standardized Testing Reproduces the Model Minority Myth

by Diana Doan

Standardized testing is the essence of the American schooling system. From elementary writing tests to high school Advanced Placement (AP) exams to the SATs, students in K-12 and beyond are all too familiar with what is expected of them each year. Because standardized testing is so integrated into our educational curriculum, it is normal for the scholastic aptitude of students to be determined only as numbers (explicitly seen in college readiness assessments like the SAT and ACT exam). When individuals’ academic performances become merely statistics, people overlook holistic factors that are crucial to our understanding of achievement. This perpetuates what is known as the achievement gap.

The achievement gap refers to the educational disparities that are observed between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, race/ethnicity, and gender. For Asian American students, test scores, enrollment statistics, and other numerical determinants suggest that this ethnic group is particularly high performing compared to Latinx and other students of color, regardless of a minority status. The assumption that all Asian American students are academically inclined, from reasons like parental involvement to simply inherent and intrinsic motivation, is what makes up the model minority myth. Test scores only provide an ‘on-the-surface’ indicator of academic performance and do not account for factors like students’ home learning environment, supplementary education, or schools’ commitment to individual’s achievement. Aggregated data that continually compare Asian Americans’ academic achievement to Latinx or African American students disregard the disparities within subethnic Asians groups like Southeast Asians. Following is a chart displaying retention rates and levels of educational attainments for several subethnic Asian groups:

The variation in numbers for groups like Vietnamese or Cambodian students compared to Taiwanese or Chinese students show that recognizing the heterogeneity within Asian American achievement is vital to understanding why being the ‘model minority’ is a myth. Furthermore, Asian American students from families of higher income or linguistic capital can better navigate the education system as well. In Kyle Spencer’s article examining perspectives of Asian American families on admission tests for New York’s elite public high schools, many defend the grueling process because it is a ‘vital stepping stone’ for the next generation. It is a justification of the hardships endured by older generations. However, many of these students who are accepted also spend countless hours prepping for this exam through private, supplementary education. What does this mean for those who cannot afford this privilege? What does this mean for students with parents who aren’t linguistically proficient and don’t even know about these elite schools? If all Asian Americans were grouped as high achieving, those that do need more resources because of external factors may not be offered any because they are stereotyped. To this day, the remark that “Oh, you’re Asian, you must be good at math,” is still thrown around. Standardized testing creates generalized statistics for an entire ethnic group, overlooking the diversity and variant for many others. This directly reproduces the model minority myth and thus, leads to a perpetuated achievement gap even within the Asian American community.

Lee, Jennifer, and Min Zhou. The Asian American Achievement Paradox. Russell Sage Foundation, 2015.

Spencer, Kyle. “For Asians, school tests are vital steppingstones.” New York Times 10 (2012): 26.



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