Fewer Tests, Not More

On the surface, it could appear as if I were in enthusiastic agreement with John Mayer. After all, he calls for more attention to creativity, and for tests of musical, spatial, and emotional (interpersonal/intrapersonal) intelligence.  Shouldn’t this hymn of praise to psychometrics be music to the ears of an advocate of Multiple Intelligences?

And yet, though I respect Mayer and Salovey’s work on emotional intelligence, I have no enthusiasm whatsoever for his recommendation of ‘more tests, not fewer.’  Already our kids are being over-tested in K-12, and when they don’t do well, rather than try to improve their performance, all too often we just test them again.

Next, Mayer assumes that we have adequate tests for these different strengths, dispositions, or intelligences. But most of the extant tests are simply multiple choice or short answer tests, and we know that such tests heavily tap linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. In my one effort to create measures of the various intelligences, my colleagues and I did not create short-answer instruments;  instead, in Project Spectrum, we created environments in which one could observe students as they work with different kinds of materials, what I call ‘intelligence-fair testing.’ So for bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, we look at how students master a new dance or for spatial intelligence, we see how they come to navigate an unfamiliar space.  One shudders to think of how such measures could be deployed on a massive scale.

Also, I identify conceptual problems with Mayer’s recommendations. He favors measuring creativity, but assumes that is the bailiwick of artists and musicians. As a matter of fact, individuals can be creative or non-creating in any domain; there are plenty of creative scientists, and many artists and musicians who are not creative at all.

Finally, let’s think about college admissions. At any selective school, admission officers are already deluged with information about the candidates when they can only admit one out of five, or perhaps even one out of 15! Imagine if they now received scores on several other tests of varying degrees of credibility. This might be a boondoggle for test makers and for those individuals who call themselves ‘college admission counselors’ or ‘coaches’ and charge outlandish fees for their services.  But would the students of colleges be enhanced?  I’d prefer to call for “Fewer Tests” and more trustworthy self-descriptions and letters of recommendations. But I also concede that such calls are unlikely to be heeded in the United States, to everyone’s loss.

To read John Mayer’s original Op-Ed click here


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