History of Standardized Testing

Where It All Began

The First Standardized Tests

The first known standardized tests originated in China. As far back as 2200 BC, Chinese emperors created a test to be given to public service officials. The test was designed to make sure the officials were of the highest quality, because their positions to the emperors were the most important of any citizen.


Sir Francis Galton was the driving force behind the modern standardized test. After his initial research in the late 1800's, many researchers built off of his work with person-specific characteristics and moved into studies of psychology. One of the earliest and most famous standardized tests was created by Alfred Binet in 1904. He created a test to measure intelligence which he called the Intelligence Quotient (or IQ) test.

The Turn of the Century

With the introduction of testing to American schools, standardized testing became a huge part of the education in the 20th century. Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) were implemented as college entrance exams in the 1920's. The test was created by Carl Brigham who was hired by the College Board to develop a standardized test for prospective college students. The SAT test grew in popularity every year and by 1994, over 1.8 million tests were being administered. Standardized tests were not just created for schools. During World War 1, a test was created for the armed forces. Brigham, with the help of Henry Goddard, created The Army Mental Tests in 1917 as a way to assign jobs to recruits. The odd subject matter of these tests proved to not be an intelligence test, rather a way to single out immigrants who were not familiar with american culture.
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The Anti-Test Movement

Although standardized tests proved to be a good way to find consistency among large groups of people, some people were unhappy with the enforcement of standardized tests. The testing proved to be extremely expensive, costing about $100 million a year between 1960 and 1989. In the late 1970s, the movement became extremely aggressive. Many authors published books/reports in hopes of attacking the standardized tests. Work like Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man," and Dale Trusheim's "The Case Against the SAT," shone a light on the cons of standardized testing. One of the most influential reports was "The Reign of ETS," by Ralph Nader. This report called standardized testing shallow and hopes to see the demise of this testing. While this movement continually gained credibility, standardized testing showed no signs of going away. Today the tests are as popular as ever and will remain so.