Today, in a boom period of standardized testing, there has been much pro and con on the use of tests and their accuracy. Some people say, “Our children are being tested to death”, and they feel that tests are not worth the money spent on them on the other side of the fence are those who would make tests that last word, almost to the point of divine revolution. Of course, neither extreme is correct. Somewhere between these two poles lies the real truth. Let us look into it. The actual facts and then decide for ourselves.
The Accuracy of Tests
A good question to start with is this: Are tests infallible? The answer is relatively easy: no! However, many teachers and parents sometimes think they are, One of the most common errors made by people whose knowledge of testing is limited is the assumption that a test is 100 percent reliable. If Mrs. Jones’s boy has a reported-IQ score of 110, she thinks her child is definitely brighter than Mrs. Smith’s child, whose IQ score is 109, and definitely inferior to Mrs. Thomas’s child, whose IQ score is 111. Parents sometimes fail to realize that a test score is only an estimate of the child’s general level of performance or ability and that a test score varies from test to test and from, one day to the next.
Professional measurement experts are aware of this fact because their research studies have shown that a child’s test score may vary considerably from one test to another and even on the same test taken at different times. They know that traits such as intelligence cannot be measured with the same degree of accuracy as one can. measure temperature, height. or weight. This is why it is generally considered unwise to use only one test as a basis for estimating a child’s intelligence.
Educational progress, or aptitude
Test results are often misunderstood by parents and teachers in that the assumption is made that a test score or scores can predict future performance with 100 percent accuracy. The reader will. for example. recall that we referred in an earlier chapter to tests used to predict a person’s performance in a vocational or academic pursuit. It is common knowledge that a chemist must have a good background in mathematics.
If Johnny scores at the 50th percentile on a mathematics ability test can we infer that he will fail in science courses in college? No, we cannot conclude from this score that Johnny will not succeed in science. We can state, however, that in every 100 students with mathematics scores that are the same as Johnny’s. only a small number, will succeed in a college science curriculum. The test scores, therefore, only provide the odds of success or failure. It is an instrument that helps Johnny, his counselor, and his parents know his chances, not a crystal ball that will predict the correct answer 10 out of 10 times. After all in horse racing, the experts are sometimes wrong and long shots do win.
Most of the time, however, the favorites finish “in the money. The parent should remember that although test scores provide information that is useful in vocational and academic planning, the final decision must be made by the child himself. As I have stated previously, such other data as school rec4ords, motivation, and Johnny’s maturity must also be taken into account. If we allow test scores to be the only determiner, we are misusing them. On the other hand, to ignore test results in favor of other data is also a misuse of one aspect of the total picture.
It would be a simple matter to guide children vocationally and academically if tests were infallible and the only factor to consider. We could gather the data from tests of intelligence, aptitude, interest, and personality, feed it to a computer, and have our problems answered for us: John is to be a chemical engineer; Phil is to be a truck driver: jerry is to be a nuclear scientist; Mary is to be a dress designer; Jane is to be a housewife. Of course, the problem of planning life is not so simple, and in working with human beings, two and two do not always equal four.
My philosophy in testing is the same as the legal philosophy that made America great: every man is innocent until proven guilty. We would rather let 10 guilty men escape justice than sentence one innocent man. Because of this philosophy, America has gone over backward the zealousness to protect the innocent. Let us do no less in the vocational futures of our children.
In order to illustrate this, let us look at several cases. Certainly, these cases are the exceptions, not the general rule, but after all, we are dealing with people, not an impersonal number. Jerry M. was born in Germany during the early 1930s. his father was a professor of history in a well known German university. One day Jerry’s father took him for a walk down the main street. In front of Jerry, who was five years old, were three rather muscular men in brown shirts with swastika armbands. Jerry, is no different from most young boys, was awed by their uniforms. He ran up to one of the soldiers and greeted him with a salute.
The soldier kicked Jerry and sent him sprawling to the gutter. Jerry’s father was then beaten into unconsciousness. Jerry and his father were Jews. Not long after this incident, Jerry and his family migrated to the United States, where his father was employed as a professor in a well-known university. Jerzy was enrolled in the first grade. After a few months, Jerry’s teacher found that he was making little progress in reading and leaming English. The father was sent for and recommendations were made for individual intelligence testing, Jerry’s teacher felt that he was a related child. The psychologist’s report was in agreement with the teacher.
Jerry had a reported IQ of 65. there was no doubt that Jerry should be in a special education class for educable mentally handicapped children (the astute reader may question the reliability of the tests in that Jerzy was still new to the English language. This was no problem because the psychologist giving the test was also a German immigrant and was able to administer the test in German.
The father was quite upset about the findings, as most parents would be and would not accept them. He chose to send Jerry for psychiatric help. The psychiatrist’s reports showed that Jerry was emotionally disturbed and needed intensive psychotherapy. After five years of psychotherapy, Jerry’s IQ score had risen from 65 to 90.
Although this was remarkable, Jerry was still far from being a scholar, at eh end of the ninth grade Jerry was only a year behind his class in most of his subjects, and his IW score had risen to The last the writer heard of him, Jerry was studying for his Ph.D. in chemistry. Certainly, his is an extreme case and by no means the usual run of affairs. Also, let me point out that psychotherapy is not a cure for mental retardation. Jerry was never mentally retarded; however, the trauma of his life in Germany and other factors prevented him from using it. all of his intellectual capacity.
Let us look into the case of Bill. At the end of eight grade, Bill’s Score on a standardized intelligence test was below average. What does this score mean? It means that Bill’s score, compared with that of other 13 year-olds, was below average ion one particular test. One aspect of Bill’s ability had been tested what do we actually know about Bill? If we look further we learn a great deal more. First of all intelligence testing in previous years had shown that Bill was an above-average child. If we look at the teacher’s cumulative records, we see better, than-average grades and a boy who had been cooperative in class.
His past academic history and test scores, therefore, do not reveal a child of below-average ability, although his school grades in the eighth grade are not as good as they were in previous years. If we delve further into Bill’s background we find that his father has been unemployed for ht last year. His 45-year old father had been a ton flight executive in the industry. The father’s unemployment had caused financial problems and bickering between his parents.
The below-average score on the intelligence test now begins to mean something different than it would have if we had gone no further than the test score itself. By considering Bill’s history- that is, school performance, past test scores, the home situation, and other information his teachers can now interpret this single test score in a more meaningful manner.
Let us look at another, quite different case, the case of Stewart.
Stewart, a nine-year-old, was kept in the third grade because of poor work, his group intelligence and reading test scores were very low. After Stewart had repeated the third grade, his teacher suggested a slow learner’s class for him. Stewart was described by his teacher as “timid and unable to express himself fluently”.
The school principal, realizing that the teacher’s description of Stewart, along with the school record and test scores, were possible signs of serving intellectual or emotional problems, decided that a thorough study o Stewart was needed. Therefore Stewart was referred to the school psychologist for intensive testing. The psychologist administered a complete series of psychological tests, including individual tests of intelligence and personality test tests, indicated that Stewart was a mentally retarded child with an IQ of 68.
There did not seem to be any signs of emotional problems or brain damage. A conference with Stewart’s parents was held, and recommendations for transfer to a special education class were made. In this case, all of the available information pointed to one conclusion: Stewart was a mentally retarded youngster.
His so-called timidity and his inability to express himself clearly were not due to home or emotional problems but were signs of lowered intellectual ability. It is important for parents to note that a diagnosis concerning Stewart’s abilities was not made on the basis of a single test. The diagnosis was arrived at only after a thorough investigation of his school record and his scores on different kinds of tests.
Let us look at the case of Sidney, who from outward
appearances seem to be similar to Stewart. Sidney, an 11- year-old, was retained in the fifth grade because of his poor schoolwork. His group intelligence test score showed low ability, and his achievement tests showed little progress. Sidney was described by his teacher as “shy and unable to get across his ideas or thoughts to me or his classmates”.
Sidney was referred by his teacher to the school psychologist. The mentally retarded boy. The psychologist found Sidney to be of superior intelligence, with an individual IQ test score of 130. There seemed to be some emotional disturbance centering around his relationship with his parents as well as extreme feelings teacher was convinced that he was of inferiority.
Sidney’s mother and father were immigrants and spoke little English in the home. Three older children in their early twenties had graduated from high school and were married. Sidney, the last child at home, had been pampered and his every whim indulged. On the other hand, he was taught to respect his elders and remain silent in their company. Sidney was given little freedom to express himself, and when he did, he was told that “he didn’t know anything and to keep quiet”.
The reader can see that from outward appearances Stewart and Sidney seemed very much alike. They6 both had poor school records, exhibited similar personalities, and had poor test scores. If only a single test of group intelligence had been used, both boys would have been placed in the same class. Their symptoms were the same, but the causes were completely different. Only through the intensive studies that were made did the individual differences in intelligence, personality, and home life reveal themselves. Stewart and Sidney’s problems could only be seen when all aspects of the total picture were evaluated.