A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized by Mark J. Garrison

By Mark J. Garrison

Asks how and why standardized exams became the ever present regular wherein academic success and intelligence are measured.

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Extra resources for A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized Testing

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Such test scores, Wooten argues, should “provide a more uniform basis on which to evaluate academic ability and achievement than do other measures such as grades” (1982, 11–12). While this practice is justified on the basis that different school districts offer different curriculums and that teachers’ grades are not comparable, I think this may only partly explain these practices. Comparability and uniformity are key in that power is required to enforce one standard of judgment, thus making evaluation uniform and hence equitable.

I argue that psychometry fails to meet its claim of measurement and that its object is not the measurement of nonphysical human attributes, but the marking of some human beings as having more worth or value than other human beings, an act central to and part and parcel of the legitimacy of a particular kind of hierarchical social system known as capitalism, and in particular its political shell, representative democracy. Psychometry’s claim to measurement serves to Standardized Tests as Markers of Social Value 31 veil and justify the fundamentally political act of marking social value, and the role this practice plays in legitimating vast social inequalities.

Contrary to what seems to be conventional wisdom, the level of precision is not the key to measurement. The claim to measurement is the claim that laws governing quantitative and qualitative change can be accurately represented mathematically. This is the criterion of being isomorphic. For a measurement system to be valid there must be a correspondence between elements, relations, and operations of the mathematical and substantive system in question. This correspondence is exemplified with the additive principle: one can take ten feet and add it to ten feet and obtain twenty feet.

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