June 15, 2009

The Testing Industry Gold Rush

One of the odder phenomenon is that as political correctness grows, so does that most politically incorrect of businesses, standardized testing. You might think that standardized testing would be a stagnant industry, what with the fact that it would appear to be the classic mature industry -- there haven't been fundamental innovations in testing since the middle of the last century -- and that the results it comes up with are viewed with deep suspicion by the courts and the media.

And yet, it's booming.

For example, when researching the Ricci case, I stumbled upon nine different firms that make up firefighters tests. And they are constantly being paid large amounts of money to make up customized new tests -- reportedly, New Haven paid $100,000 for the test that Frank Ricci took -- even though a national test would work fine.

Similarly, the passage of the Kennedy-Bush No Child Left Behind act led to the development of a huge number of new school achievement tests by each state. It was important to have new tests because the NCLB's mandate that federal aid to states would depend upon annual progress toward making every single student in the state above average by 2014 on the state's test could only be accomplished by massive fraud.

A frequent pattern was for a state to introduce a new test and make it initially extremely hard. When the first years' results were announced, the governor would declare an all-hands-on-deck educational crisis in the state. Then, the state would make the scoring progressively easier over the years, and the politicians would congratulate each other on how much they've improved schooling in just a few years. Unfortunately, on the various national tests such as the NAEP or the Iowa test, nothing much would change.

Now, the Administration of the husband of the test-phobic Michelle Obama is set to pour vast new amounts of taxpayer largess on this little industry to create new national tests to replace the state tests mandated by the NCLB, even though plenty of national tests have long existed. (I took the Iowa Test in California in 1966, for example.)

The AP reports:
U.S. to Spend Up to $350 Million for Uniform Tests in Reading, Math

RALEIGH, N.C., June 14 -- The federal government will spend up to $350 million to help states developing national standards for reading and math, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Sunday.

In the current patchwork of benchmarks across the nation, students and schools considered failing in one state might get passing grades in another. The Obama administration is urging states to replace their standards for student achievement with a common set.

Every state except Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas has signed on to the concept, but getting them to adopt whatever emerges as the national benchmark will be politically difficult.

Duncan said the government's spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

The money will come from the Education Department's $5 billion fund to reward states that adopt innovations the Obama administration supports. ...

Any tests developed for the new standards would probably replace existing ones.

Asked to explain the money's focus on developing more tests, Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive.

Developing assessments, by contrast, is a "very heavy lift financially," he said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing.

"Having real high standards is important, but behind that, I think in this country we have too many bad tests," Duncan said. "If we're going to have world-class international standards, we need to have world-class evaluations behind them."

So, what's the fundamental reason for why the government has been spending so much money on new tests in this decade? Because the politicians don't like the results, especially the continuing existence of racial gaps. They're behaving like a fat man who keeps buying more and more expensive bathroom scales because he doesn't like what the old scale tells him about his weight.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

17 comments:

kurt9 said...

They're behaving like a fat man who keeps buying more and more expensive bathroom scales because he doesn't like what the old scale tells him about his weight.

Perfect analogy. This is why we like you, Steve.

outlaw josey wales said...

I don't have the energy to look, but surely NCLB cannot demand everyone be above average. That's unpossible!

Anyway, whatever test they come up with, the results will be the same. My analogy is the Cuba policy. It hasn't worked for 40 years, but any day now it will.

AMac said...

They're behaving like a fat man who keeps buying more and more expensive bathroom scales because he doesn't like what the old scale tells him about his weight.

The analogy is inexact, because the improved scale measures the same numerical units as the outdated model. In the fat guy's bathroom, a pound remains a pound.

In contrast, each new alphabet-soup testing entrant has its own eligibility criteria, subject specificity, scoring system, approach to normalization, and so on. And since it's new, there's no annoying history of underperformance by whoever, going back years or decades.

E.g.--The Baltimore Sun ran a Page One story on local colleges making the SAT optional, with significant follow-up as Letters, Responses, and the like. This was in service of Public Good #1, Greater Diversity, although readers unfamiliar with Pravda's stylistic conventions would be mystified as to why the SAT is so troublesome.

Replacing it with a sequence of improved tests -- say, the SAU, SAV, then SAW -- would ease the job of Admissions Offices in establishing non-quota quotas. MSM reporters would appreciate the added complexity, too.

Richard Hoste said...

You know Steve, we're all constrained by what we choose to read.

I've been reading you for a few years and I spend more time on Isteve than the rest of the MSM combined. I naturally have always assumed that these rational ideas that you espouse must be gaining popularity and making things obvious for all.

Really, I'm completely irrational in thinking so. There's no reason to think that truth will win out. We could be talking about the same thing a hundred years from now.

HBD Books

John East said...

There are several reasons for new tests. One, as you say, is to ensure they "move with the times", i.e. are structured to give results which conform with politically correct dogma.

A second reason is to destroy any continuity with older tests. Who's to say modern education is dumbed down when it is almost impossible to compare today's results with those recorded in earlier decades. Incidently, this is also a favourite ploy to massage crime figures.

Yet another incentive is change for the sake of change. If you are a politician or any other parasite working for the state you have to constantly tinker and fiddle with the system to justify your bloated salary.

Taken all together it's amazing we have any continuity at all in society.

mike courtman said...

"A second reason is to destroy any continuity with older tests. Who's to say modern education is dumbed down when it is almost impossible to compare today's results with those recorded in earlier decades."

We've gone for the extra touch in New Zealand. Not only have the grading systems, cirricula and exam names changed, but we've even changed the names of the school years.

Hence if a 40-year-old asks a 20 year-old "did you pass School C English in the fifth form? I got 60 percent myself," they would have to answer something like "We'll I'm not sure what you mean, I think form 5 is the same as year 11, but I'm not sure, If it is then I got a merit in NCEA English in year 11, we weren't told percentages."

jimbo said...

The more I see of the absurditiies of our current politics, the more I become convinced we need a real, numerically targeted quota syste for things like schools and governemnt jobs. As you have said before, at least with a quota, you get the best within each race - and you don't have all the negative consequences of official policy dedicated to proving that 2+2=5.

Anonymous said...

The uniform testing regime is one aspect of the crowd control and dumbing down of the students (and future leaders) in this country.

Look at our high schools and colleges. They are mass producing millions of obedient zombies. Doesn't matter if it's the inner city public school or the Ivy League campus. All students are trained to avoid the important questions of our time.

The best colleges in America are producing brain-deadened group-thinking conformists. This is an intellectual collapse that began in the mid 20th c. And we are beginning to see the horrible consequences of an intellectually bankrupt elite leading the country.

anony-mouse said...

You're forgetting also (or not?) the booming test-taking instruction industry.

The Washington Post Company's real moneymaker is Kaplan. And there are others.

I don't think there is a direct equivalent to that with regard to weight scales, unless someone comes up with a business teaching people how to rejigger their bathroom scales.

Anonymous said...

"Really, I'm completely irrational in thinking so. There's no reason to think that truth will win out. We could be talking about the same thing a hundred years from now."
_____

"Look at our high schools and colleges. They are mass producing millions of obedient zombies. Doesn't matter if it's the inner city public school or the Ivy League campus. All students are trained to avoid the important questions of our time."
_____

Wow, I look at these two points and think, it is classic "us and them". We are talking about it but they aren't.

A century ago Europe had 25% of the world's population, now it is 12%. Current trend will bring it down to 7% by 2050. The culture of Europeans in Europe and in the United States is clearly the most technologically advanced. Japan, China, Korea etc. also play an integral part in the maintenance and development of this modern culture. However, all have very low fertility rates. All below replacement rate. They will be replaced by others, perhaps unable to maintain a tech based civilization. The cultures least able to maintain themselves are out pacing us. Most of them are growing at least slightly, some much more.

If we assume, logically, in the countries with an average IQ of 100, that half of the people have an IQ over 100. And some fraction of the rest of the world also has IQ over 100, then that is probably roughly 2 billion out of 6 billion with an IQ over 100. That is about 1 in 3 people with IQ over 100.

Since the fertility in the higher average IQ countries is disproportionally low compared to lower IQ countries and in those countries the most intelligent have the fewest children, we could see that when the population gets to 9 billion in 30-40 years, we could have only 1 billion people with an IQ over 100. That is 1 in 9 people with IQ over 100.

If "us vs. them" is a war of words when "we" are 1 in 3, what could it be when "we" are 1 in 9? Assuming all readers here have IQ over 100 of course.

DCThrowback said...

@ John East:

Great comment. Your point #2 really added to the Steve's original argument - making it even stronger. +1 to you, good sir.

Anonymous said...

Don't be so dismissive of testing industry efforts to close the testing gaps. In 20 years, the three sections of the SAT could be Spanish/Hip-Hop Lyrics/Dancing.

You think that's impossible? You think it sounds ridiculous? Wouldn't you have thought it ridiculous if I told you, in 1990, that we'd have a President Hussein in 2009?

Anonymous said...

"fat man who keeps buying more and more expensive bathroom scales"


Better analogy - a regime of the slimmest people that forces slim people to eat a obesity-friendly diet and punishes anyone who refers to fat people as such.

J said...

Important find.

Anonymous said...

"We've gone for the extra touch in New Zealand. Not only have the grading systems, cirricula and exam names changed, but we've even changed the names of the school years.

Hence if a 40-year-old asks a 20 year-old "did you pass School C English in the fifth form? I got 60 percent myself," they would have to answer something like "We'll I'm not sure what you mean, I think form 5 is the same as year 11, but I'm not sure, If it is then I got a merit in NCEA English in year 11, we weren't told percentages.""

It's the same in Britain, but years 12 and 13 are still 'the Sixth Form', however, Sixth Formers are clearly differentiated from younger boys and not only by their off-the-peg department shop suits...

David said...

"when the population gets to 9 billion in 30-40 years, we could have only 1 billion people with an IQ over 100. That is 1 in 9 people with IQ over 100."

I don't advocate it, but there will probably be a saving die-off. History is full of them; they are periodic.

The Black Death knocked off 50% (or more) of the population of Europe. Mostly people from the lower orders, for obvious reasons. Very soon afterward, the Renaissance happened. The higher IQ people were free to function - and not bedraggled trying to manage massive hordes of the unwashed.

This is why I say to hell with much of the CDC's efforts globally or otherwise. Interference on behalf of idgits is dysgenic. Let the dice roll - God knows his own, and God knows he can have them.

Anonymous said...

"One of the odder phenomenon is"

Friendly correction on point of grammar:

"phenomenon" should be pluralized here to "phenomena." You wouldn't say, "One of the odder man is" or "one of the faster car is".

Feel free to correct without publishing my comment. I'm a great admirer of yours.