ALTHOUGH THE proposed federal truth-in-testing bill is not going to be considered further during this session of Congress, the idea that the federal government should begin to regulate college admission examinations is not dead -- unfortunately. Three members of Congress, who intend to push such legislation next year, set out the case for it on the opposite page today. Their agruments are appealing, seductively so. But they do not make a convincing case for federal intervention into this part of academic life.
Opening up the testing process, as this proposal would do, sounds fine. It seems to be in the spirit of opening up confidential files so individuals can be sure they are being treated fairly -- until you examine the ramifications. Students, of course, would have access to both the questions and the answers on the exams they take, like the College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test. Once that information became public, the usefulness of those questions on future tests would be ended. That means that business of constructing tests -- and making sure each is of the same degree of difficulty as its predecessors -- would be enormously complicated.
In New York state, where such requirements were written into law last summer, the cost to each student of the SAT has increased and the frequency with which it is given sharply reduced. Those are the obvious results of a situation in which a complete set of new questions must be generated almost every time a test is given. In addition, 19 of the other 25 standardized admission tests usually offered to students there will probably not be offered in 1980.
As far as the other agruments advanced in favor of this proposed legislation are concerned, the methodology of these tests is already available to serious researchers, and students who want to prepare for the tests are already provided with sample questions and information about the kinds of knowledge the tests attempt to measure.
The premise underlying this legislation is that standardized tests, particularly the SAT, victimize some of those who take them, principally poor and minority students. It may be true that such tests do not fairly measure the academic potential of some students. Those are the ones whose intellectual growth has been stifled by inadequate elementary and secondary schools. While many of these are poor, minority students, some are white, middle-class students. The fault is not in the tests but in the schools, and good admissions officers take that into consideration.
Standardized testing does have it faults; complete reliance by admissions officers on test scores is high among them. But that is a reason to educate those who use and take the tests about their limitations, not a reason for the federal government to enter the field of educational testing, even in a limited way.