All this talk about Murray and IQ has reminded me of a great time I had one day in fourth grade taking a standardized test. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are institutional uses to which those test scores are put. I think there are good critiques we could make about the uses of those scores, but the critiques are already out there in the field where people actually study this stuff. If policy makers haven’t yet listened to those critiques to come up with better policies that does suck, but we have to take responsibility for our actions in the world we live in now, not the world we might like to occupy.
That said, in fourth grade I still thought that the testing was all about the students. That is what they told us anyway: that we were being tested to determine class placements the next year. It didn’t occur to me that maybe an individual teacher’s raise might also be affected, or the school’s rating from the state, or the school’s ability to recruit future students. I naively believed them that the test was just an individual measure of our abilities to be used in-house. And yet, even at that age I thought it was a bit stupid. They had me in the same school for an entire year. I had even been there the year before. They had mountains of experience with me and my work (and other students and theirs), certainly enough to justify what they wanted to do: divide the 5th grade class into small advanced and much larger “everyone else” sections for math, English, and a couple other subjects.
Being largely reserved, even shy, I didn’t voice any actual criticisms of this strategy. But I arrived at the testing room and simply couldn’t get motivated to take it seriously. It didn’t help that the questions were arranged in progressive difficulty so that the first I read seemed entirely inane.
That decided me. On my ScanTron answer sheet I filled in exactly the correct bubbles to form a flowery meadow, the face of a barn at the right edge (actually the top, I’d turned the answer sheet sideways for my landscape), and just because the top (actually left) column didn’t have enough boxes filled in, I placed a few spaceships in the sky.
Weirdly, I finished with the second lowest score. (Perhaps I was scored by the art teacher?) I never found out who had the lowest, though I assume that that person just didn’t bother filling in anything. But I still remember that one day fondly, and in particular one flower that came out just so.