Standardized Ability Tests and Testing

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Science  23 Feb 1968:
Vol. 159, Issue 3817, pp. 851-855
DOI: 10.1126/science.159.3817.851


At the outset a distinction was made between criticisms directed at the validity of tests and criticisms not affected by the validity of the tests. It was noted further that all criticisms of tests must take into consideration the type of test and the use to which the test is put.

Criticisms of the validity of tests involved the following issues: (i) tests may be unfair to certain groups and individuals, including the extremely gifted, the culturally disadvantaged, and those who lack experience in taking tests; (ii) tests are not perfect predictors of subsequent performance; (iii) tests may be used in overly rigid ways; (iv) tests may not measure inherent qualities of individuals; and (v) tests may contribute to their own predictive validity by serving as self-fulfilling prophecies.

Criticisms that are more or less independent of test validity included the effects of tests on (i) thinking patterns of those tested frequently; (ii) school curricula; (iii) self-image, motivation, and aspirations; (iv) groups using tests as a criterion for selection or allocation, or both; and (v) privacy. Several concluding remarks are in order:

1) This paper has focused almost entirely on criticisms of tests. However, the positive value of standardized tests should not be ignored. Here we must keep in mind what possible alternative measures would be used if standardized tests were abandoned.

2) We must begin thinking about tests in a much broader perspective— one that includes consideration of the social effects of tests as well as their validity and reliability.

3) Finally, an effort should be made to develop rational and systematic policies on the use of tests with the culturally disadvantaged, the dissemination of test results, and the problem of invasion of privacy. Such policies can be formulated only if we are willing to take a long hard look at the role we want testing to play in the society. Standardized tests currently are a cornerstone in the edifice of stratification in American society. It is up to the social scientist to conduct research that will enable policy makers in education, business and industry, and government to determine in a consistent and rational way the ultimate shape of this edifice.

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