So-called truth-in-testing legislation, which would have required nationwide disclosure of standardized educational test results, answers and organization financing, has flunked out of Congress for at least the rest of the year.
Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) canceled a subcommittee markup session set for today when it became apparent that what he called a "hysterical lobbying effort" by large testing organizations had left the measure with little support.
The fight over the bill has crystallized one of the major issues in modern education, which is the value and use of standardized tests. Critics of such widely used instruments as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (Sat), the Stanford-Binet IQ test and assorted law, medical and graduate school admissions tests have held that students' scores are often misused.
The testing organizations are hugh and largely unregulated, yet their products assign children to classes for the retarded, determine school tracking and college admissions and in general shape the lives of most Americans, the critics say.
Those who opposed Weiss's bill to remedy these defects at the college level said the measure was a cannon going after a fly.
"Much more time is needed to consider the complicated issues the bill raises," said Mary Churchill of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) of Princeton, N.J. "We don't think there's a need for the bill."
Much of the pressure that killed the measure for this session "emanated out Princeton," according to Don Cameron, assistant executive director of the National Education Association, one of the prime critics of ETS.
"The testing industry exerted all the influence it has to kill this legislation," Cameron said, "because they don't want to reveal what this legislation would make them reveal."
New York State recently passed a similar truth-in-testing law, effective Jan. 1, which will require testing companies to disclose to each student not only the score earned but the questions missed, and to make public each exam given. New York Education Commissioner Gordon Ambach testified during hearings this month that 20 of 26 college admission test programs would probably be withdrawn from New York as a result.
The companies argued that disclosure of each test would require them to remake exams every time they were given, which would be prohibitively expensive and would weaken quality of the questions. The six test programs that will remain in New York, including the SAT, already plan to raise prices, to cut back on non-Saturday tests and on special exams for the handicapped and will give the test only three times a year instead of six, according to Ambach.
The reaction to bringing the measure to a federal level was "just hysterical lobbying effort," according to Weiss. "ETS and the College Board pulled out all the stops," he said. "They contacted the presidents and deans of the colleges and universities and professional schools, just hysterical about what basically is a very modest piece of legislation."
The reaction, one of Weiss's aides said, included memos from the College Board calling the bill "mysterious" with "a hidden agenda." A fact sheet distributed by ETS, the aide said, charged: "It has been suggested that the real issue is not publication of tests but abolition of them."
Most higher education organizations joined in opposing Weiss's measure, primarily on grounds that publicizing test questions would give the tests more influence on curriculum than they already have. Philip Rever, director of the Washington office of the American College Testing Program, said the measure was trying to remedy problems really caused by society in general.
But critics of the testing industry are not done yet. They worry that students biographical information is sold to colleges by the large companies and have filed lawsuits to break what they call a monopoly on student lists.
They criticize allegedly haphazard methods of compiling test questions and they insist that if coaching can improve a student's score, as was tentatively reported this year by the Federal Trade Commission, then most test results are invalid.
Weiss plans to revive his bill in the education and labor subcommittee of the House next spring. He remains confident that some kind of law will emerge eventually.