chapter  5
34 Pages

Social justice and the rise of national testing infrastructures

This chapter addresses the social justice issues that characterize contemporary testing infrastructures. Cremin explains the broadest trends characterizing this period, which have to do with the deepening political significance of education and of testing. Continuing with the task of drawing lessons from the history of testing, the first section below deals briefly with the history of the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Established in light of a vision of justiceoriented testing, ETS was undertaken in the name of objectivity and in the pursuit of a science of education. ETS would build the first national testing infrastructure, touching the lives of nearly every college-bound student. The size and impact of ‘the big test’ would shape the character of educational institutions and change the face of the testing industry (Lemann, 1999). A true science of education would remain elusive (Lagemann, 2000), but ETS would create the means for the nationwide institutionalization of a test-based meritocracy. On the one hand, this was a social justice boon. Not only did ETS correct the total lack of objectivity that plagued the early IQ-testing movement, it replaced an aristocratic educational system based on privilege and family lineage with an ostensibly meritocratic one. On the other hand, it was the first efficiency-oriented testing infrastructure of national scope. ETS built a meritocracy that was designed to channel resources and opportunities toward those who performed well on a very specific and narrow set of tests. These

tests were originally designed mainly to identify and promote individuals with skills thought to be of great ‘national value’ – specifically, scientists and engineers in the context of the Cold War.