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The Values of Ability Testing: Implications of Multiple Perspectives About Criteria and Standards

Messick, Samuel J.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Ability Testing, Aptitude Tests, National Academy of Sciences, Test Use


In response to an invitation from the National Council on Measurement in Education to review the National Academy of Sciences report on Ability Testing, this paper explores the ideological consequences of the report's tacit acceptance of a pervasive institutional perspective. By focussing on selection and classification as the major functions of ability testing in both employment and education and by embracing job performance and grades as primary criteria, the report puts implicit priority on productivity and efficiency as the primary social values to be served by testing—tempered, of course, by the legal requirements of equal opportunity. As a consequence, the conflict between productivity and parity is given central status in the report along with a call for flexible decision rules to accommodate both, but at the expense of simultaneously downplaying other values important in the workplace and especially in education. This paper examines the utility of systematically contrasting multiple value perspectives as a means of reducing the likelihood that any single perspective will dominate our assumptions and methodologies. (22pp.)

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