Contesting the Use Of Tests

Standardized tests are often about as popular
as the messenger murdered for bringing bad news — and if it were up to their
critics, would meet the same fate. Their “disparate impact” on minorities (most
recently discussed here)
provides one of the standard justifications for continuing affirmative action.

Now their use seems to be seeping out of
academia. According to an article
in the Chronicle of Higher Education, some college graduates are listing
their scores on the Graduate Record Examination on their applications for
non-academic jobs. The test seems to be of increasing interest to employers, in
part because grade inflation has made grades less useful as an indicator of
knowledge or ability.

Oddly, academic merit — at least as measured
by good grades and high test scores — is highly unpopular in academia these
days, no doubt in large part because it is an obstacle to be overcome in the
effort to diversify. William E. Sedlacek, a professor emeritus of education at
the University of Maryland, said businesses should focus “on candidates’
non-cognitive characteristics, like resilience, creativity, and the ability to
take directions, learn on the fly, and work in teams,” qualities for which not
only GRE scores but even a college degree would seem to be poor proxies.

An even more scathing view of the relevance
of whatever the GRE tests was expressed by Robert J. Sternberg, former
president of the American Psychological Association and provost of Oklahoma State
University, particularly regarding those who submit their scores to employers.

Doing so, he said, suggests that such
applicants prize narrow aptitudes over traits like hard work, dedication, and a
sense of responsibility. 

“I hire people all the time,” Mr. Sternberg
said in an e-mail. “If someone included his or her GRE scores on a job
application, I would find the information highly useful. I definitely would not
hire the individual.”

This is the same Robert J. Sternberg who once
“as your skill in achieving whatever it is you
want to attain in your life within your sociocultural context by capitalizing
on your strengths and compensating for, or correcting, your weaknesses.”

If submitting a high GRE score to a
prospective employer enhances your chance of being hired (whether without or
within “your sociocultural context”), doing so would seem to be a perfect
example of Sternbergian intelligence.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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