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High test scores, opponents insist, reveal little more than a talent for—taking tests.
According to a 1994 study by the National Association of School Psychologists, students who do well on the SAT tend to think by “rote” and to favor a “surface approach” to schoolwork.
The old formula, which assigned equal weight to the math and verbal sections of the test, was replaced by an index in which the verbal score, usually the higher one for female test-takers, was doubled.
The point, as a prominent testing official put it, was “to help girls catch up.”More widely publicized was the massive “recentering” of SAT scores that went into effect with the 1996 results.
Low scorers, by contrast, are more likely to delve into material, valuing “learning for its own sake.”It is likewise contended that no mere standardized test can capture the qualities that translate into real-world achievement. In a similar vein, the social commentator Nicholas Lemann has called for a reassessment of what we mean by meritocracy.
Thus, when it emerged last year that American children ranked dead last among the major industrial nations in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, the Harvard education expert Howard Gardner declared himself unconcerned. Our current view of it, he argued recently in the , is “badly warped.” If universities are to regain the “moral and public dimensions” that once connected them to the wider society, instead of being mere instruments for “distributing money and prestige,” they should begin to select not those students who excel on standardized tests but those with the skills necessary to lead “a good, decent life.”_____________ This varied chorus of critics has already won some significant concessions from the current testing regime.
Looking toward America’s future, he imagined an educational system that would seek young people from “every condition of life,” students of “virtue and talents” who would someday form a “natural aristocracy” to replace the old-fashioned kind based on wealth and family background. The chief instrument of this transformation was the standardized test—mass-administered, machine-scored, and utterly indifferent to every characteristic of a student save his ability to get the answers right.
Another line of attack against the tests grants their accuracy in measuring certain academic skills but challenges the notion that these are the skills most worth having.
“They look for nuances, shades of gray, different angles.”In fact, so biased are the tests, according to their opponents, that they fail to perform even the limited function claimed for them: forecasting future grades.