Home > Essays > Standardized Tests, Used Properly, COULD Help Identify Potential Einsteins. Too Bad That is Not Happening

Standardized Tests, Used Properly, COULD Help Identify Potential Einsteins. Too Bad That is Not Happening

July 24, 2021

Thomas Edsall’s column in Wednesday’s NYTimes, We Are Leaving “Lost Einsteins” Behind, suggests that public schools are failing to identify potential Einsteins because they are failing to administer a universal standardized test measuring each student’s “spatial ability”. Citing a paper by David Lubinski of Vanderbilt and Harrison J. Kell, a senior researcher at the Educational Testing Service, titled “Spatial Ability: A Neglected Talent in Educational and Occupational Settings,” Edsall suggests that administering one more standardized test to children in third grade might help uncover some children who are falling through the proverbial cracks. The bulk of the article is devoted to making the case for homogeneously grouping students based on IQ test results, spatial aptitude testing, and scores on standardized achievement tests. This approach, which Mr. Lubinski and Kell advocate, would presumably uncover thousands of students who are currently falling by the wayside.

At the very end of the article, though, Mr. Edsall devotes some space to Harvard professor David Deming who reveals the elephant in the research room:

Deming argues that the focus of public concern should be on inequities in postsecondary education:

Most importantly, resource inequality is an order of magnitude larger in higher education compared to K-12. Rich school districts spend maybe 20 percent more than poor school districts. Elite private colleges are spending upwards of $100k per student per year, compared to about $10k in community colleges. In higher education, we devote the most resources to the students who need the least help.

After acknowledging the “the relentless escalation in the demand for skills of all kinds“, Deming suggests that the failure for preparing the workforce lies mostly with the for profit sector and those public colleges who have abandoned admission standards altogether:

…almost all of the expansion in college degrees over the last 20 years has happened in for-profit and less-selective schools. So I think it is all part of the same problem. There are lots of colleges out there, but the best ones are not expanding. In fact, they are getting harder to access. Just look at any data on median GPA and SAT/ACT scores among entering classes at flagship universities. They have all become way more selective. There are more and more talented young people out there, but only so many slots at selective schools.

At the very end of his article, Mr. Edsall acknowledges that standardized tests have become increasingly controversial:

Testing has become a flashpoint in the larger debate over policies based on merit: Do they prevent discrimination or are they barriers to admission and advancement? One of the original purposes of testing was to identify those who were illegitimately pushed to the side. Whatever their overall impact, these tests can and do often serve as a gateway rather than a barrier to admission — that was part of what they were intended to do in the first place.

That MAY have been what they were intended to do in the first place. Indeed, I can recall two of my classmates in 8th grade being singled out for scoring high on standardized tests which forced teachers to reconsider their placement in the mid-level sections and “advancing” them to the higher tier grouping for 9th grade. Finding diamonds in the rough, the original intent, has itself been pushed to the side in favorr of using test scores to identify schools and teachers who need to be punished for their “failures”. THAT is why testing is a flashpoint and, unfortunately, eliminated from any consideration of identifying hidden Einsteins.

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