Testing Testing

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this critique of testing, Hanson focuses on the United States, which he says is “awash in tests.” Hanson’s concern stems from the fact that along with providing information about people, tests also act as means of controlling those who are subjects of them.

Hanson examines two major types of tests, those for authenticity, such as lie detector and drug tests, and those for qualifications, such as intelligence and aptitude tests. Medical and psychiatric testing fall outside the scope of his study and his arguments. He finds in the types of tests examined a common feature: They produce the characteristics that they are intended to measure. Aptitude and intelligence tests, for example, create expectations of those who take them. Low scores often are used to block opportunities, and high scores open doors. It comes as no surprise to Hanson, then, that IQ scores correlate with various measures of success.

Testing thus becomes, in Hanson’s view, a means of socialregimentation. Individuals who know that they will be tested learnhow to behave so that they will score well on tests rather thanpursuing other goals. Using the example of intelligence andaptitude tests, Hanson describes how tests create an incentive forstudents to learn what will be tested rather than pursuingknowledge for its own sake. As a wider social phenomenon, testingconditions people to respond in socially approved ways and stiflesoriginality.

Hanson promotes two theses throughout this book: Tests actuallycreate what they intend to measure, and testing is a form of power.He advances these theses with evidence from a historical study oftesting and his own survey results as well as an objectiveexamination of testing practices. He argues that testing has spreadfar beyond its cost-effectiveness. This is a result of twofactors. First, testing has become a big business with its ownmomentum. Second, potential test givers are afraid not to givetests. They believe that they will attract undesirable people ifthey do not test; an example is an employer that does not testpotential employees for drug use. In addition, tests are objectivemeasures to back up subjective decisions, such as hiring choices.Finally, some tests—particularly in the medicalfield—avoid liability. Test givers do not want to be put inthe position of defending themselves for not having given a testthat could have been of some benefit.