Rights of Test-Takers Will Be MonitoredBy 'FairTest' Group
A group of educators, students, and civil-rights leaders last week announced the formation of a new organization to defend the rights of "the 10 million Americans who take standardized exams each year."
The announcement was made at a press conference in the San Francisco Hilton where the College Board--one of the founders of the Educational Testing Service, the nation's largest publisher of such examinations--was holding its annual meeting.
Known as "FairTest," the new project is a division of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit research and policymaking organization formed this past summer and based in Cambridge, Mass. FairTest will be the "action-oriented" arm of the organization, according to John G. Weiss, the center's executive director.
"FairTest will examine the examiners," said Chuck Stone, former director of minority affairs with the Educational Testing Service and a founding member of the new group. "For decades, standardized-test publishers--especially ets--have contorted and controlled information about their tests' accuracy and biases," he said.
Calling the testing enterprise a "monopolistic industry" requiring "public accountability and consumer oversight," Mr. Stone said that FairTest would provide "an authoritative source of independent information for admissions officers, legislators, journalists, parents, and students."
Fox in the Chicken Coop?
The group seeks expanded scrutiny of the tests for racial, sexual, and class bias, according to Mr. Weiss, and will champion freer access to examination results so that test-takers can challenge test answers or the form or wording of questions.
It also plans to ask U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett to block renewal of the contract allowing ets to operate the federal government's test-information center--the Educational Resources Information Center on Tests, Measurement, and Evaluation.
"ets submits exceedingly low bids to operate this center," said Mr. Weiss, "because company executives realize the value of controlling legislators' and researchers' access to information about the tests they sell."
"Having ets run this eric Clearinghouse is like having a fox guard the chicken coop," he added.
The organization will ask Mr. Bennett to rule that the contract is a conflict of interest for the testing firm.
Joy A. McIntyre, director of the information-services divison of the ets, said the testing firm's expertise makes it "best suited" to run the clearinghouse. She described eric's operations as "a collection of information that's usually in the form of speeches or panel discussions not readily available."
"We feel that we've carried out the charge to expand information about measurement and testing and that we've done that well," said Ms. McIntyre.
"We feel we're on the side of fair tests too," she added. "I'm not sure the specific points of this group's agenda really make sense, because most of them have already been done."
Mr. Weiss disagreed. He said that although "people have been complaining for the last 15 years about the problems with tests," biased questions are still included on examinations such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. And the number of tests nationwide is "growing incredibly,'' he argued.
Mr. Weiss said legal and other changes in recent years have improved the chances of influencing test publishers. He cited "truth-in-testing" laws, passed by both California and New York State, as providing individuals for the first time with access to particular test items.
In addition, a "golden rule" procedure--established in a 1984 court settlement between the testing service and the Golden Rule Insurance Company in Illinois--allows for the independent review of test items for racial bias. Legislation adopting the "golden-rule" procedures has been introduced in California, Massachu-setts, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin, said Mr. Weiss.
But Ms. McIntyre contended that the ets and most of its major clients already operate under procedures for fair test disclosure. In addition, she said, the ets "has probably done more research into cultural bias or item bias than anybody."
One of the testing firm's researchers, she said, has been working for several years to develop new techniques for assessing item bias that can be applied to all ets tests. She said that the testing service may be able to implement the techniques within the next year or two.
FairTest decided to focus its attention first on ets and the College Board, said Mr. Weiss, because they sponsor the "most prestigious tests in America."
The Golden Rule Insurance Company has provided $75,000 in start-up funds for the new center and its FairTest program.
In San Francisco last week, representatives from the Association of Black Psychologists, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the California Public Interest Research Group participated in a FairTest "teach-in" on testing for college-admissions officers attending the College Board conference.
FairTest's board of directors includes:
Denise Carty-Bennia, professor of law, Northeastern University Law School, past chairman of the National Conference of Black Lawyers; Pamela George, professor of psychology, North Carolina Central University, former executive director of the Atlantic Center for Research in Education; Paul Pottinger, president of the New Manhattan Corporation, past executive director of the National Center for the Study of Professions; Diana Pullin, professor of law and education at Michigan State University; Robert Schaeffer, president of Public Policy Communications, former research director of the Massachusetts Legislature's committee on human services; Steve Solomon, law student who previously coordinated the New York Public Interest Research Group's campaign to enact truth-in-testing legislation; Chuck Stone, senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and former director of minority affairs for the ets; and John Weiss, executive director of FairTest.
Information about the group may be obtained by writing the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, Box 1272, Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. 02238, or by calling (617) 489-0461.