I’m not sure I want to know anyone in this industry who hasn’t at some time or another experienced a crisis of conscience. Humans seek meaning in our work, and unless we are psychopaths, we generally prefer doing good rather than evil. When we have a choice that doesn’t much inconvenience us.
Today, let’s tackle Reason #1: Assessments give equality of opportunity.
The idea that assessment ensures equality of opportunity is one that Victorian writer (and career civil servant) Anthony Trollope treats humorously in The Three Clerks (Chapter 3: The Internal Navigation) and seriously in his autobiography:
SAT tutoring, anyone? How much does that cost these days, anyway? Who is most able to afford SAT tutoring? How does that disparity affect this playing field that the test is supposed to be leveling?
And here is what Trollope has to say about similar kinds of narrowly targeted test preparation:
Italics mine, yet again.
What Trollope says about himself is that he would certainly have performed poorly on any such public examination, but if he had been rejected based on his poor performance, the government would have just as certainly lost “a valuable public servant.” That he was valuable is incontestable; every biographical (and autobiographical) account I’ve read indicates that Trollope applied himself to his career as devotedly, industriously, and with as much competence as he did to his writing. (You may not know that Trollope wrote a gazillion books, and that he rose every morning at 5 dark-thirty to write for two hours before he began his work day at his day job.)
Which ultimately means that Reason #1 doesn’t really reassure me that I am making the world a better place, one test question at a time.
(In addition, a highly inconvenient truth of this industry is that the soundness of the test cannot always be taken for granted, and an unsound test, a test that is constructed in absence of best practices, should not be relied upon to produce data that is itself reliable. I predict this truth will apply to all ten reasons.)