IT HAS BEEN about a year since all the fuss erupted over standardized testing for college and graduate school entrance exams. There was the much-ballyhooed report from Ralph Nader's group on the alleged perfidies of the Educational Testing Service, which, unfortunately, lent further momentum to so-called "truth-in-testing" bills that were under consideration in many state legislatures. New York state passed such a law, but is still the only state to have done so. The law's key provision requires the disclosure of tests and answers, which, in turn, means that test givers must design and calibrate many more versions of each test. Other variations on such legislation now being considered include provisions that would prohibit the use of standardized tests by public institutions or that would suggest the criteria by which college admissions decisions were to be made.
"Truth in testing" is a misnomer, meant to promote the yet unproven theory that there is dishonesty in testing and that such laws would correct it. Nevertheless, standardized testing is such a pervasive part of modern education that efforts to improve it merit serious attention. The New York law, which has now been in effect for a bout half a year, offers the opportunity to draw some preliminary impressions of its possible benefits.
Since the law passed, 20 of the 26 testing programs that had been given in New York have been withdrawn. Students wishing to take these tests must now travel to a neighboring state. The Association of American Medical Colleges has sued to enjoin the law and has been granted an injunction.The suit is now pending in federal court. All of the testing programs that are in compliance with the law are giving tests less often and charging more for them. Of the students who took the SAT test in March, only 6 percent have so far paid the extra fee to obtain a copy of the test and answers.
Meanwhile, the College Board, which sponsors the SAT tests, has taken some steps of its own. Believing that if there is any real benefit to be gained from studying the tests, it comes before a test is taken, not after, as the New York law requires. The College Board has adopted new procedures to enable high school students to practice or take the SAT three times -- twice in the preliminary PSAT format -- and receive the test, the given answers and the correct answers once, all before taking the real test. No extra fee is charged. If there are real benefits to be gained from this extra preparation, they should become evident in the next few years.
There are, then, at least three good reasons to defer indefinitely further consideration of proposed "truth-in-testing" laws in Congress and the other state legislatures. The law's constitutionality is under serious challenge. So far, its effects on New York state's students have been mostly negative -- fewer tests available, on fewer dates and at increased cost. Finally, the College Board, which administers the largest and most important of all these tests, has taken steps that meet whatever serious concerns have been raised.