A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized by Mark J. Garrison

By Mark J. Garrison

Asks how and why standardized checks became the ever-present normal in which academic success and intelligence are measured.

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More testing equals more opportunity. For those at the bottom of the social order, each test is a chance to break free of their social roots by proving their “natural” abilities, as if Darwin discovered obscure word analogies as a basis for natural selection! Also suggested by this observation is the idea that discussions about achievement and ability differences by group (sex, race, or social class) are extremely significant, that ability and achievement are presently racist conceptions in that they presume a hierarchy of worth among presumed categories of human beings.

Unlike monarchic forms of standardization, a universal system of standards is accepted by and adhered to by all parties; this is given as fair and impartial, as existing above class conflict, and a means to sort out conflicts. ” Such test scores, Wooten argues, should “provide a more uniform basis on which to evaluate academic ability and achievement than do other measures such as grades” (1982, 11–12). While this practice is justified on the basis that different school districts offer different curriculums and that teachers’ grades are not comparable, I think this may only partly explain these practices.

Ranking human worth on the basis of how well one competes in academic contests, with the effect that high ranks are associated with privilege, status, and power, does suggest that psychometry is best explored as a form of vertical classification and attending rankings of social value. Validity In traditional psychometric theory, validity is defined as the degree to which a test measures what it claims to measure. I want to first point out the oddity of this formulation. For example, how does the reader respond to this: My ruler is valid to the degree to which it measures length.

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