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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Oct. 8, 1979)
monday, October 8, 1079
Standardized tests are good if they are used correctly
WAtaGTON-The principal at this small Catholic
girls school was going over the test results of the latest
Her students, she told the PTA gathering, were in the
80th percentile and better in reading, social studies and
overall achievement, but only in the 60th in math-still
comfortably above the national median 50, but still short
of the school's general excellence.
"We'll have to do something about our math instruct
tion,H she observed matterof-factly.
She took it as noncontroversial fact that the scores,
which ranked her students against their counterparts
across the country, told her something she needed to
know about what was going on in her school.
The information was especially valuable because it
came from outside the school. Her students' in-school
math grades were no lower than their grades in other sub
jects. Had she relied solely on their classroom grades, she
would never have known that there might be a problem in
math instruction. The results of the standardized tests put
her on notice.
I WAS REMINDED of a time several years back when a
group of public school parents had to fight long and hard
to get their principal to administer regular standardized
tests. The parents had wanted to know how their children
stacked up nationally, and also how they progressed from
one year to the next. The tests, when they were finally
administered on a regular basis, spotlighted some prob
lems that might otherwise have gone undetected while, at
the same time, reassuring parents that some very good
things were going on in the school.
The divergent attitudes of the two principals are a mild
illustration of the different ways different people regard
Some see the tests as a useful tool for evaluating in
structional techniques. Others see them only as an unfair
The later viewpoint predominated at a recent forum on
the truth-in-testing legislation now pending in the Con
gress. The jstarkest expression of that view came from George
Jackson of Howard University, who spoke as a representa
tive of the Association of Black Psychologists, a group
that has called for a moratorium on standardized testing.
"PSYCHOMETRIC TESTING is inherently racist,"
said Jackson. There is very little difference between the
thinking of Arthur Jensen (the Berkeley professor who,
once again, is pushing his theory that blacks are genetical
ly the intellectual inferiors of whites) and the rest of the
Jackson and other panelists at the forum, held in con
junction with the Congressional Black Caucus weekend,
were dismayed that blacks as a group score consistently
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lower than whites on the standardized tests. They attri
buted that fact to the racism and Insensltivlty of the test
Ing industry. '
One panelist took a different tack.
Neither the proposed legislation nor most of the panel
ists "address the cause of lower minority scores' said
Roscoe Brown, president of the Bronx Community
"Most tests penalize blacks and minorities because of
the poor (pre-test) education they have received1 he said.
"And even after the performance differences are found,
few additional resources are provided to help minority
students overcome the effects of their inferior education."
BROWN'S POINT is that the culprit is not the test but
the uses to which the test is put, and the response of edu
cators to what the test tells them.
An analogy to medical tests buttresses the point, there
is no use administering health-screening tests if there is no
commitment to remedy the disorders the tests reveal.
Standardized tests are useful in the same way that ther
mometers are useful: They reveal symptoms, but do not
All the speakers were opposed to the use of test scores
as the sole criterion for deciding who is admitted to
college or graduate school. But Brown, unlike many of his
fellow panelists, .was unwilling to get rid of testing alto
gether. "It is important that the (admissions) process be ex
panded to include other factors: Teacher recommenda
tions, student background, initiative and so on," he said.
"But we mustn't forget that these other factors have,
in the past, been used to exclude minority students. Thus
there needs to be some objective standard."
(c) 1979, tht Washington Post Company
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