Our proposed "truth-in-testing" legislation is not laying the foundation for a government-run testing system as The Wasington Post (Aug. 27 editorial) and columnist William Raspberry (Sept. 10. and Oct. 1 commentary) contend.
They charge that our bill, the Educational Testing Act of 1979, would not correct admitted injustices and biases in the standardized exam process, but would instead inflict additional harm on the very people already victimized by the tests -- primarily poor and minority students. Critics also maintain that the legislation is addressed to the needs of a special group and will only create a bigger market for the coaching schools that prepare students for the exams.
A careful look at our legislation's purposes and provisions should dispel these fears and correct misunderstandings. The Educational Testing Act is a disclosure measure that encourages the testing companies themselves to make needed reforms. It is not a regulatory intrusion or an attempted takeover by Big Brother. It will promote fairness and openness to the benefit of all test-takers.
In no way does the bill demand alterations in the examinations or in admission standards for academic institutions. The legislation if fact strengthens the reliability of standardized testing by helping to demystify the entire process and to establish a method of cross-checking scores.
The handful of tax-exempt companies that produce exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are performing a public function. Yet the public has no effective recourse when an error is made or when inherent biases in the tests distort a supposedly objective measurement of intellectual ability.
Nor do consumers have any real choice if they are dissatisfied with the companies' products. There is only one SAT, only one LSAT, only one GRE. Nearly all postsecondary schools rely to some degree on test scores in making admission decisions. Too often an individual's academic future is made or broken by a test result that may not even be accurate and that may say much more about family income, race, sex and geography than about the person's skills or potential.
Many critics of our bill have greatly overstated the scope and impact of the legislation. It seeks, first of all, to give all prospective consumers uniform information about the nature of a particular exam. Just as truth-in-lending laws provide borrowers with needed data on comparative loan practices, so would truth-in-testing supply students with a helpful understanding of the meaning and limitations of the tests.
Our legislation aims to eliminate biases in the selection of questions, not by government decree, but by enabling outside researchers to review test preparation criteria and to conduct a reasonable dialogue on test methodology. This kind of independent evaluation is almost impossible at present because the testing industry treats its studies and procedures like state secrets. Our bill guarantees access to essential material by requiring the companies to open their analyses of test results to public inspection.
Questions and answers used in computing the raw score would be released within 30 days after a test is administered, according to another provision in our bill. A test-taker would also be able to obtain a copy of his answer sheet and a list of correct answers.
This particular provision, intended to provide a cross-check against scoring errors and to show exactly where academic strengths and weaknesses lie, has been singled out for attack by the testing industry. The companies claim that this requirement will necessitate preparation of many more tests, thereby increasing cost and weakening the reliability of exam results.
Neither of these claims is valid. The legislation explicity protects reliability by exempting from disclosure those questions and answers that do not affect the raw score and that are used by the companies for experimental purposes. Officials from the American College Testing Service testified at congressional hearings that our bill would not alter their current procedure of developing new questions for all the items in four out of five tests. The legislation also exempts from the disclosure provision exams administered to fewer than 5,000 students a year.
Truth-in-testing should have marginal impact on company expenses and on the fees charged test-takers. Only about 5 percent of the fee paid by a student taking the SAT, for example, actually goes toward test development, according to other testimony at the hearings.
Revealing questions and answers to previous tests will prove a boon to coaching schools that only well-off students can afford to attend, some critics assert. But the expensive coaching services already exist, and their clientele is almost exclusively from affluent families. Truth-in-testing is likely to make effective coaching readily available to students from all economic backgrounds since practice tests will be widely distributed.
Our legislation will improve the merit selection process for higher education by making test preparation and scoring less arbitrary. Our bill is supported by a diverse coalition of educational, minority and student organizations because it serves the interest of our educational system and of millions of students. Truth-in-testing deserves to be enacted as a workable means of replacing secrecy and insularity with openness and accountability.