August 5, 2006

Was there a difference between intelligence and achievement tests 80 years ago?

Today's passage touched briefly on the overlapping development of intelligence and achievement tests early in the 20th century. Most of the historiography has focused on so-called IQ tests, their flaws, and their political uses. But at the same time that school districts were purchasing millions of IQ tests, they were also purchasing millions of the early achievement tests in academic subjects as well as the early achievement batteries. Lewis Terman had a heavy hand in prominent tests on both sides (the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test and the Stanford Achievement Tests), and I wonder whether there is much evidence that school districts saw a difference between the two in the 1920s and 1930s. Chris Mazzeo's 2001 article in Teachers College Record documents the uses of testing for guidance purposes in the first half-century of standardized testing, and that could use either IQ or achievement tests.

Aggregate achievement test results were reported for what one might call quasi-evaluative purposes (sometimes publicly in the Progressive Era, often internally through the mid-20th century, as I've seen in archives). But I wonder if that was mostly an afterthought piggybacking on using testing for tracking purposes, at least initially. By the 1960s, I know some state officials were interested in using achievement testing for evaluative purposes (what we call accountability today), and I wonder if anyone might be able to trace that development in a concrete case or two.

But I wonder if there's an important lesson in the overlapping of so-called intelligence and achievement testing. We see that overlap in the ambiguity in the meaning of the SATs, which has stood at different times for Scholastic Aptitude, Scholastic Achievement, and Scholastic Assessment Test. The primary motivation for purchasing tests 80 years ago could have been very similar. And we know that the skills involved in profitable test-publishing (both in test construction and also marketing/contracting) were similar. Hmmn...

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on August 5, 2006 12:43 PM |