Corruption or talent

It’s really either or; you either pick corruption or talent.

The war on standardized testing is ultimately a war in favor of corruption and against talent. For when our ability to detect ability declines, our propensity to reward those with the right associations, political views, and willingness to depart with money increases.
Bo Winegard

There is of course a number of historical precedents for this, like this from ancient China:

When examinations fell out of favor, as occurred during the Eastern Han, the Tang, and the Yuan, the consequences were inevitable. A coterie of great families, or ruling castes, came to dominate the administration, and unattached youth of talent were excluded and marginalized. The testing regime was uniformly disliked by the aristocrats because they already had power, connections, and polish. They perceived in themselves the right to rule. They required no test to validate their self-worth. For those born to rule, the memorization of ancient texts and the drafting of learned essays is tedious. But to the bright but unconnected, mental gymnastics are a chance to demonstrate their worthiness.
— Razib Khan, “Applying IQ to IQ

This coincides with this from Rob Henderson’s newsletter:

Afterwards, the Air Force recruiter showed me how to convert ASVAB to SAT scores. I got the same score as my smartest friend who always got straight-As and was headed for college. What the fuck? I thought.

At the time, I wasn’t aware these tests are thinly veiled IQ tests. The SAT and ASVAB both correlate with IQ at r = .8.

A study on Army recruits found that scores on an intelligence test, along with 2-mile run time, were the best predictors of success in infantry training.

Research on tank gunners found that replacing a gunner who scores around the 20th percentile with one who scores around the 55th percentile improves the likelihood of hitting a target by 34 percent.


Anyway, seeing my ASVAB score was the first time I learned I could have been a good student. It was possible.

How many kids out there are like this. Kids who have fucked up lives and get bad grades which mask their underlying potential. Potential that a standardized test could reveal.

The SAT is a “barrier” according to that NYT op-ed. But it’s also a gateway. Most poor kids don’t take the SAT. Or any other standardized test. Maybe more should.

The chattering class is using poor kids as pawns to eliminate standardized testing. Which helps their own kids. Rich kids who “don’t test well.”

But they know how to strategically boost their GPAs, get recommendation letters from important people, and stack their resumes with extracurriculars. They have “polish.”

Henderson bring up the point that no-one is arguing for eliminating standardised tests for the military, which reminds me of the paradox of Stalin’s support for Lysenkoism (anti-science), except where it had direct influence on the military power of USSR.

We always hear that eliminating tests will help the most vulnerable kids. It is downright untrue. Tests, as far as they can be made to work today, enable the most vulnerable access to limited resources. And telling the most vulnerable kids that grades don’t matter only hurt them.

Short caveat: Statistically, those that are smart do get better grades. However, that does not mean, individually, that those who get good grades, are smart. And there are plenty of skills that we do not grade at all and I think we all know smart people who just happen to excel with those.











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1 Response to Corruption or talent

  1. Pingback: Evaluations as moral judgements | Henning's blog

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