Are you ready to be assessed as to your work value (read: potential) by means of an SAT-esque instrument? Prepare yourself, college graduates for what could be one of the most backwards notions yet! Think it’s hard to find a job now? Well, let’s hope you’re a good test taker, because, after all, that’s really what makes for a good, productive, and innovative employee, right?
Wow, at first glance, I thought I’d read the latest headline from The Onion this morning. Nope. There it was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. This is seriously being considered?!?!
Let’s look at a couple actual problems with the notion that one’s employability post-college might be (even in part) determined by a standardized test….
1) The SAT itself is not an achievement test. Nope, it has NOTHING to do with measuring what one has actually learned, so much as one’s aptitude for learning. Now, on the surface, isn’t that what would be most valuable to organizations, an instrument that might shed light on which candidates possessed greater aptitude for applying what they’ve learned? Not so fast…
Look at the decline of colleges using standardized testing (SAT, ACT, etc.) as a factor in admissions decisions. It’s been steadily going down for most of the past decade. Why? Because aptitude is a far cry from attitude. It’s actually one’s intrinsic motivation to succeed that has a far greater impact on achievement (in college or elsewhere) than one’s capacity for learning.
2) Book smart is not the same as street smart. Now I won’t begin to argue that being book smart isn’t a good thing. It certainly is. But in most industries, it’s the combination of common sense, emotional intelligence, and applied knowledge that determines whether someone will succeed or not (in varying degrees). No aptitude or achievement test can measure that.
3) Innovation is a mindset, a mixture of behavioral, cognitive, and personality attributes that also cannot be easily measured. And like it or not, in the next several decades, it will be those organizations who embrace true innovation at all levels that survive. Testing someone’s acquisition of knowledge in college will NOT be able to predict the level to which individuals are innovative.
4) Finally, just as we have seen in the groundswell of ill-conceived “educational standards” at lower levels, when institutions begin to be directed by ultimate “test scores,” they commence “teaching to the test.” Doing so will ultimately undermine the required focus on increasing students’, i.e., future employees’, ability to critically evaluate, to objectively synthesize, and to broaden their ways of thinking precisely when our industries need those types of backgrounds.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m not opposed to pre-employment assessment at all. In fact, in very controlled situations, such instruments provide a wonderful (and if properly designed) comprehensive picture of job candidates. But to think that an SAT-type assessment of graduating seniors will do more good than harm is, I believe, very misguided. Let’s home most organizations similarly realize this…