Testing the Testers

NEW JERSEY

Rocked by a Federal Trade Commission study last year that showed standardized tests were not necessarily measures of innate aptitude and stung by new state laws requiring disclosure of test answers, Educational Testing Services Inc. (ETS) spent this year absorbing still more punishment.

First came a long-awaited report prepared by researchers working for Ralph Nader. The 300-page indictment attacked every phase of the ETS operation, long the dominant force in the standardized testing industry.

Then, last month, two Harvard Medical School researchers released a report of their own, which demonstrated test scores could be increased by coaching, that the Scholastic Aptitude Tests measured little on the way of true aptitude, and that ETS had lied consistently over the years about the value of its measures.

ETS's response to all criticisms has been mixed. Although they began allowing high school students to see their test results--in an attempt to persuade state legislatures against passing "Truth in Testing" laws patterned after New York's recently enacted law--ETS officials insist that the tests remain a valid indicator of ability and aptitude.