Aptitude tests

These tests combine learned skills along with a reasoning component and can be used to differentiate bright students from the regular cohort, or as part of a battery of instruments determining associated with career choice.

Essentially tests of aptitude incorporate reasoning skills into curriculum and general knowledge. They are a composite of the innate ability the test-taker has, in tandem with actual acquired skill level. Their use is best demonstrated related to specific aptitudes such as mathematical aptitude. The tests often require sophisticated reading skills, as well as enormous perseverance on the part of the test-taker. Their suitability for non-English speaking populations is highly suspect. They would also discriminate badly against children who, for whatever reason, have a lower-level function in language.

The Otis Lennon is one of the most widely used and is now available at specific age/grade levels. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DAT) are specialized to specific areas such as language, spatial and numerical skills.

In the United States the most well-known example would be the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing Program (ACT), although the latter is acknowledged as having a larger curriculum component. Both test the suitability of students leaving high school for entry into college or university. It is a highly centralised and impersonal testing procedure which has generated an enormous industry of test-taking literature: cookbooks on how to do well.

Both tests are used in the talent search model developed originally at Johns Hopkins University under Professor Julian Stanley, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY). Administering these tests of college entrance to 12 and 13 year-old students will provide very reliable evidence of students who need higher cognitive challenge. Their use equates with an out-of-level test of mathematical reasoning. A predetermined cut-off establishes a pool at the top 1%-2% of that population.

At the primary school level the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, a Year 7 test, has been used at Grades 3, 4, 5 in a similar program of identification based at the Belin Blank Centre at The University of Iowa. The system has been imported into other countries, Australia being one of these, administered as a mass testing program through the University of New South Wales.

Data gathering across large populations is an important aspect of gaining information about those groups. Aptitude testing provides such insights. However there would be limitations on the usefulness of these tests in responding to specific needs, to the learning of the individuals who actually take the tests. Unpredictability in results is also difficult to deal with as generally there is no opportunity to access the raw data.

What is lost in mass testing is an understanding through careful observation, and the opportunity to respond to what is noticed.