September 23, 1987

This Issue
Vol. 07, Issue 03
Past Issues

For past issues, select from the drop-down menu.

Psychology's greatest contribution to science has been the notion of measuring mental attributes: the testing for achievement, ability, and aptitude by standardized examination. Curiously, however, while the influence of psychology on contemporary thought has grown enormously in recent decades, the standardized test has become the center of one of society's most strident controversies. Why do we find these tests simultaneously troublesome and fascinating? Why can we not agree on their uses and value? Why can we not either accept them for what they are or simply discard them onto the waste heap of once-tried but unsuccessful ideas? The complexity of testing theory and of the instruments themselves at times results in misunderstanding of the meaning of these tests. Nevertheless, the number of users continues to rise, and test writers work steadily at the refinement of their creations and at the discovery of new uses for them.
I was stunned when Barbara (names of students in this essay are fictitious), an applicant to our graduate program, was rejected. Letters of recommendation from people we knew and respected testified that she was a stellar researcher, and when I read her work, I thought it excellent. Our program emphasizes research; Barbara produced superior research; since the best predictor of a given kind of behavior in the future is the exhibition of the same behavior in the past, Barbara should have been accepted. Because her aptitude-test scores were lower than those of students normally admitted to our program, however, she was rejected. The members of the admissions committee who voted against her acceptance didn't want to take the risk. For them Barbara was, at best, an "overachiever," someone whose achievement exceeded her ability and whose low ability would catch up with her in time.
FOUNDATION SUPPORT: Coverage of specific topics in Education Week is supported in part by grants from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CME Group Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over the content of the articles that are underwritten by the foundations. Additional grants in support of Editorial Projects in Education’s data journalism and video capacity come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Schott Foundation for Public Education. (Updated 1/1/2017)

Most Popular Stories