I read a couple of books about tests this month. They might not be particularly interesting to TOEFL students, but teachers who read this blog might enjoy them.
First up, I read Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews. It describes how Jaime Escalante prepared underprivileged students in East Los Angeles to take the AP Calculus Exam in the 1970s and 80s. Escalante’s unique approach to this task yielded amazing (and unprecedented) results. I don’t know if his techniques would work forty years later, but this is a great book for anyone interested in teaching and in the value of testing. It is also a great advertisement for the AP program, which continues to this day. Readers might also benefit from its sketch of how public schools operated in LA during those decades. They faced challenges then, and they face challenges now.
One incident in the book stood out to me. In 1982, ETS (yes, ETS) determined that several of Escalante’s students may have cheated on the test. Their suspicious were due in part to a controversial mathematical analysis called a “K Index.” They were told that they could do one of three things: cancel the test and get a refund, take the test again, or submit additional information. The students were told that if they provided additional information, it would be reviewed by a panel of three ETS officials. They would only have to convince one of the members of the panel to have their scores restored. Or they could turn it all over to the American Arbitration Association.
Skip ahead to 2022, and that’s almost exactly what some students are told when ETS challenges their TOEFL scores. The mathematical analysis is different of course, but everything else remains the same. Funny, that.
Next, I read Michael Young’s “The Rise of the Meritocracy: 1870-2033” Young was a sociologist who coined the term “meritocracy.” But this book is not in praise of meritocracy, as most are. The book is actually a dystopia that uses the rise of intelligence testing in the 1940s and 50s as its launching point. Young tracks a fictional history of the United Kingdom as it slips into a more and more segregated and caste-like society due to its emphasis on “merit” above all else. It is an interesting thought-experiment. Especially in 2022 when the general consensus seems to be that meritocracy is always a good thing. I think there is something in here that explains part of our current political chaos, but I’m going to keep the blog politics-free for now. But for more on this topic, check out this debate on IQ2. Or my review of “The Big Test” a few months ago.