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Daniel in the examiners' den

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The high school student was right. The professors were wrong to say he wasn't. Would a correction ever have been made if the redoubtable Educational Testing Service had not -- for the first time -- let students see the answers after a college aptitude exam? As it is, scores have been raised for almost a quarter of a million students who put down the same answer as Daniel Lowen.

For such an episode to occur during ETS's initial round of disclosure seems like instant justification for those parents, teachers, students, and consumer groups that have been urging such disclosure for years.It raises the question of how many mistakes might have been discovered in the past if the practice had begun earlier. IT dramatizes efforts for federal "truth in testing" legislation of the sort originally introduced in Congress before New York State passed such a law in 1979.

With a pleasant irony, young Mr. Lowen lives in Florida, and a Florida congressman, Sam Gibbons, has taken a lead in "truth in testing" legislation. He has introduced again this year a bill dealing primarily with occupational examinations, and he has cosponsored with Rep. Ted Weiss of New York a bill similar to the New York law. The latter requires that many standardized tests for college and graduate school admission be opened to public scrutiny, allowing those who take them to see their papers and the correct answers.

Immediate action on federal legislation is unlikely in the midst of all the activity on the Reagan economic program. Meanwhile, the availability of answers in New York under the state law renders somewhat academic, so to speak, any effort to withhold them elsewhere.

The New York law does not apply to ETS achievement tests in specific subjects. And an argument has been made that, particularly in the natural sciences, the expensive practical problems of redesigning tests each year could price them out of reach of some students. This might affect some of the very minority students who are supposed to be adided by disclosure and the monitoring of any signs of cultural basis. The subject is sufficiently complicated and controversial for Congress to be painstaking in drawing final legislation.

There are larger questions, of course, about the whole weight to be given standardized testing. Meanwhile, it's tempting to enjoy the small question on which student Lowen proved he was right. It asked how many surfaces would remain exposed when two pyramids were joined. He went beyond the abstract mathematical visualization of the "correct" answer of seven surfaces and saw that, in actuality, some surfaces themselves would be combined, resulting in only five surfaces remaining. It's good that, under the new ETS policy, his light di d not have to stay under a bushel.


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