These are just anecdotes, but the data tell a similar story. In 2005, Florida’s Broward County began administering a test to all second graders to identify gifted and talented students. The number of black and Hispanic students in those classes both promptly tripled, and those minority students performed very well in the gifted programs. When the testing regimen was ended in 2010 due to budget cuts, the racial disparities re-emerged. Broward’s episode suggests that American institutions are bad at identifying talent, especially among minority students.
Broward’s experience is far from unique. Looking at 11 states that started requiring (and paying for) high school students to take the ACT or SAT tests since 2001, economist Joshua Hyman found that large numbers of poor students scored as college-ready who otherwise would not even have taken the tests. This hidden talent increased the pool of college-ready poor students by 50 percent. Other papers found that mandatory testing increased college enrollment rates among disadvantaged students.
This research shows that there is lots of talent that the traditional U.S. education system fails to discover. It also demonstrates that universal standardized testing is one way to find and encourage that talent. For many years, opponents have railed against standardized testing, claiming that tests are biased against poor and minority students. But whether that’s true or not, testing seems much less biased than the education system itself.
But testing alone won’t solve the problem of finding neglected American talent. Data from a 2005 report by the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that low-scoring students from high-income families are more likely to complete college than high-scoring students from low-income families: