The power of test results

I recently read a study conducted by two Harvard Psychologists in 1964. They developed a Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition. They proposed that this test would be able to identify those children who were about to show an increase in their scholastic progress in the near future. The psychologists administered the Harvard TIA to children in Oak Elementary School along with a Test of General Abilities, which helped to tell the level of general abilities of the student. After the test was given, they gave each teacher a list of names of the students in their class who had scored high in the Harvard TIA. The children on this list were the ones who were to experience “an intellectual growth spurt.”

Two years later, in 1966 the two psychologists returned and readministered the Test of General Abilities to the same students. The results, like predicted by the Harvard TIA, showed that those students who were on the list 2 years ago (or the so-called “spurters”) had gained an average of 12.22 points in the general learning ability test compared to 8.42 points of those who were “non-spurters”.

The Harvard TIA was able to identify who would have almost 50% more intellectual growth than their peers. Additionally, the results from the Harvard TIA test, through perceptual assimilation, affected the teacher’s expectations on the child. This had a dramatic impact on the actual performance of the child. For example, a teacher would provide more opportunities to a “spurter” to confirm their suspicion that the child is smart. Additionally, the teacher would give more challenging questions and more praise and attention to those students.

However, there was one catch to this study. The so-called Harvard TIA was NOT a real test. The experimenters randomly picked 20% of students in the classroom and put them on the “spurter” list.

I was shocked to read how the results of this “fake” test can impact the academic outcomes of these children so dramatically. Although it was helpful for those lucky students who were considered to be “spurter’s” — those who were not lucky enough to be chosen in the random 20% of the class lacked in the opportunities that could have actually gotten them to increase their grades too. The manners in which results are presented to the test takers are very important. But the way we interpret them (whether it is the test taker or those around them) and act upon them may be just as significant and life changing.

ID: 260451503

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