Standardized Testing: The Temporal Scan of Education

As the pandemic rages and the issue of testing is discussed in a medical context, I’ve found myself increasingly noticing the parallels between the the ways in which America has discussed and politicized Covid testing and the way in which America has politicized and discussed educational testing. These parallels between medical and educational testing have me wondering if it’s a human or American failing that leads to the being so easily seduced by as Alfred Binet, father of IQ testing, put it “a simple, brutal number, which can have only a deceptive precision.

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It’s Time to Fix Standardized Testing

The global pandemic has wreaked havoc and the educational status quo and disrupted not only how students are taught and tested. Schools are radically adjusting how they deliver lessons and testing agencies are revamping how they deliver their assessment. The inability to gather in a room has forced the cancellation of statewide assessments, the shortening of AP exams, and major admissions tests (like the ACTGMATGRE, ISEELSATSAT, and SSAT) to develop online at-home testing options. This is the moment to fix many of the things that are broken about assessments. 

Since their beginnings in the late 1800s, standardized tests have become an oppressive force in U.S. education and have influenced many other areas of society, yet in that same time there have been only marginal changes in the tests themselves. Despite reams of papers and scores of conference presentations, a high score on a 4 or 5 answer-choice aggressively-timed test continues to be treated as the epitome of intellectual demonstration. This has gone so far that, in the midst of a global pandemic, one (intentionally unnamed or linked to) author questioned whether epidemiologists should be heeded above economists, asking, “How smart are they? What are their average GRE scores?”

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GRE: The One Test

Since the 1980s, Educational Testing Service (ETS), which dominated educational admission testing from 1940 – 1980, has been hemorrhaging product lines. In its heyday (SAT word) ETS was the Sauron to US education’s Middle Earth, providing admissions tests for the vast majority of professional certification programs and higher ed admissions.  Their services ranged from teacher certification exams to the SAT, GRE, GMAT, MCAT, and LSAT. In the last decade or so, ETS business strategy has changed and the organization has begun to aggressively market their most popular remaining assessment product, the Graduate Record Exam (commonly known by its initialism – GRE), as “the One Test to Assess Them All.” This strategic market grab, while an interesting business strategy, raises significant questions about all admission tests. Specifically, the expansion of the GRE into fields beyond its design should force responsible test users to reevaluate long-held assumptions about what information is being gained by requiring the GRE (and all its brethren) and at what cost.

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