Testing for competence

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Testing for Competence Rather
Than for "Intelligence"
DAVID C. McCLELLAND Harvard University
The Educational Testing Service alone employs about 2,000 people, annually administers Scholastic Aptitude Tests to thousands of aspirants to college, and makes enough money to support a large basic research operation. Its tests have tremendous power over the lives of young people by stamping some ofthem "qualified" and others "less qualified" for college work. Until recent "exceptions" were made, the tests have served as a very efficient device for screening out black, Spanish-speaking, and other minority applicants to colleges. Admissions officers have protested that they take other qualities besides test achievements into account in granting admission, but careful studies by Wing andWallach (1971) and others have shown that this is true only to a very limited degree. Why should intelligence or aptitude tests have all this power? What justifies the use of such tests in selecting applicants for college entrance or jobs? On what assumptions is the success of the movement based?
The key issue is obviously the validity of socalled intelligence tests. Their use could not be justifiedunless they were valid, and it is my conviction that the evidence for their validity is by no means so overwhelming as most of us, rather unthinkingly, had come to think it was. In point of fact, most of us just believed the results that the testers gave us, without subjecting them to the kind of fierce skepticism that greets, for example, the latest attempt to show that ESP exists. My objectivesare to review skeptically the main lines of evidence for the validity of intelligence and aptitude tests and to draw some inferences from this review as to new lines that testing might take in the future.
Let us grant at the outset that brain-damaged or retarded people do less well on intelligence tests than other people. Wechsler (19S8) initially used this criterion to validate his instrument,although it has an obvious weakness: brain-damaged people do less well on almost any test so that it is hard to argue that something unique called "lack of intelligence" is responsible for the deficiency in test scores. The multimethod, multitrait criterion has not been applied here.
Tests Predict Grades in School
The games people are required to play on aptitude tests are similar to the gamesteachers require in the classroom. In fact, many of Binet's original tests were taken from exercises that teachers used in French schools. So it is scarcely surprising that aptitude test scores are correlated highly with grades in school. The whole Scholastic AptitudeTesting movement rests its case largely on this single undeniable fact. Defenders of intelligence testing, like McNemar (1964), oftenseem to be suggesting that this is the only kind of validity necessary. McNemar remarked that "the manual yes I counted 'em, validity coefficients." What more could you ask for, ladies and gentlemen? It was not until I looked at the manual myself (McNemar certainly did not enlighten me) that I confirmed my suspicion that almost every one of those"validity" coefficients involved predicting gradesin courses in other words, performing on similar types of tests. In the early 1950s, a committee of the Social Science Research Council of which I was chairman looked into the matter and concluded that while grade level attained seemed related to future measures of success in life, performance within grade was related only slightly. In other words, being a high school or college graduate gave onea credential that opened up certain higher level jobs, but the poorer students in high school or college did as well in life as the top students. As a college teacher, I found this hard to believe until I made a simple check. To my great surprise, I could not distinguish the two lists of men 15-18 years later. There were lawyers, doctors, research scientists, and college and high school...
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