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Americans Instrumental in Establishing Standardized Tests
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James Bryant Conant: b. 1893

james bryant conant One of the fathers of the American educational system, James Bryant Conant believed in creating a governing, intellectual elite, chosen by standardized tests and specially educated. His ideal was a classless and democratic society.

Appointed president of Harvard College in 1933, Conant aimed to make the school a more egalitarian institution. Soon after his appointment, Conant established a scholarship program for students from modest backgrounds. He ordered two assistants, Wilbur Bender and Henry Chauncey, to find a way to assess the academic promise of the potential scholarship students. Chauncey eventually recommended the Scholastic Aptitude Test, developed by Carl Brigham, a psychology professor at Princeton.

In 1937 Conant recommended that a new national testing agency be created to operate all the leading standardized educational tests. He espoused his beliefs in a series of articles for the Atlantic Monthly. In the third of this series, entitled "Wanted: American Radicals," Conant wrote that the American radical "believes in equality of opportunity, not equality of rewards." After World War II, he arranged for all of the major testing organizations in the country to merge into one private, non-profit organization, the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

Conant also played a key role in the expansion of ETS. In 1947, before ETS was chartered, Conant set up a west-coast branch office in Berkeley. When ETS was officially established January 1, 1948, Conant was the first Chairman of the Board.

After his Harvard presidency ended in 1953, Conant moved out of the educational world and into diplomacy. He became the U.S. high commissioner for Germany and was then the ambassador to West Germany from 1955-1957.

Henry Chauncey: b. 1905

henry chauncey As a member of the American aristocracy Conant hoped to abolish, Henry Chauncey was an unlikely ally in the fight to equalize opportunities at Harvard. He did however, have an interest in intelligence tests, and by the time Conant assigned him to find a way to select scholarship students in 1933, Chauncey was a devout advocate of standardized testing.

It was Chauncey who brought the SAT to Conant as a solution for his dilemma of finding qualified scholarship students. He also convinced Conant that the test was an accurate measure of intelligence, not just of the quality of a test taker's education. Harvard began using the test for scholarship students in 1934 and, starting in 1941, required it for all applicants.

In 1943, Chauncey contracted with the Army and Navy to administer an adapted SAT to over 300,000 people across the country in one day for help in officer selection. His achievement for the military demonstrated that it was possible to use the SAT to assess all high school students in the country.

When Conant established ETS after the war, Chauncey became its first president. Before World War II, the number of SAT takers never exceeded 20,000 in a given year. By the time Chauncey retired in 1970, more than 1.5 million people took the SAT annually.

Throughout his tenure at ETS, Chauncey worked to institute a monumental project he called the "Census of Abilities," designed to test every American citizen twice during their high school years on a number of attributes. His goal was to use the results of the tests to advise the students on what they should do with their lives, thus saving them from the pain and suffering of not knowing their lot in life. Chauncey never achieved his plan, largely because no one would fund it.

Carl C. Brigham: d. 1943

carl c brigham Carl C. Brigham, the father of the SAT, became interested in mental testing while a student a Princeton. He later became a psychology professor at the university, where he was an enthusiastic member of the eugenics movement. During the 1920s he developed his own objective admissions test for students applying to Princeton.

Brigham later worked on the Army Alpha Test, an intelligence test given to millions of recruits during World War I. In 1923, he wrote A Study of American Intelligence, which analyzed the findings of the Alpha Test by race. Its conclusion, which Brigham insisted was without prejudice, was that American education was declining and "will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial mixture becomes more and more extensive."

Eventually Brigham adapted the Army Alpha Test for use in college admissions, renaming it the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Brigham's work interested Henry Chauncey and Bill Bender, assistants to James Conant at Harvard. Starting in 1934, Harvard adopted the SAT to select scholarship recipients at the school.

Brigham later repudiated much of his book, doubting the idea that there is universal human intelligence quotient. He also opposed the formation of the Educational Testing Service.

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