June 7, 2006

The choice of standardized testing

Last night, I was thinking about the moment in the early- to mid-1970s when state legislatures began experimenting with some form of accountability (as they then termed it, perhaps borrowing from Leon Lessinger, an associate commissioner of education in the Nixon administration). For example, Florida passed something called an accountability act in 1971, Governor Rubin Askew talked about it in speeches in his first term, and the legislature tried different things over the next several years, including requiring more detailed reporting of spending (from the fiscal metaphor of accountability) and choosing standardized testing as the main measure of academic achievement.

I don't think anyone has adequately explained that choice. In the 1970s, standardized testing was coming under fairly harsh criticism for both its construction (claims that they were generally biased in content) and use (especially the group administration of IQ tests frequently used as screening devices for special education). It was in the 1970s that Congress changed the requirements for special-education assessment. From the general criticism, I sometimes wonder if one of the motivations for ETS's famous 1975-76 "blue-ribbon" panel analyzing the SAT decline was a subtle way of relegitimizing the SATs. (No, I don't have time to look into ETS's archives for that.) So why did legislatures such as Florida's choose standardized testing? Last night, my wife gave the usual answers (it's cheaper and easier to number-crunch with them), but that doesn't quite satisfy me as an historian, in part because those are ahistorical claims and in part because I'm not sure where I'd find evidence to confirm those hypotheses.

Any other possible answers?

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on June 7, 2006 6:51 AM |