The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy

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Macmillan, Nov 16, 2000 - Education - 406 pages
19 Reviews
What do we know about the history, origin, design, and purpose of the SAT? Who invented it, and why? How did it acquire such a prominent and lasting position in American education? The Big Test reveals the ideas, people, and politics behind a fifty-year-old utopian social experiment that changed this country. Combining vibrant storytelling, vivid portraiture, and thematic analysis, Lemann shows why this experiment did not turn out as planned. It did create a new elite, but it also generated conflict and tension—and America's best educated, most privileged people are now leaders without followers.

Drawing on unprecedented access to the Educational Testing Service’s archives, Lemann maintains that America’s meritocracy is neither natural nor inevitable, and that it does not apportion opportunity equally or fairly. His important study not only asks profound moral and political questions about the past and future of our society but also carries implications for current social and educational policy. As Brent Staples noted in his New York Times editorial column: “Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts announced that prospective students would no longer be required to submit SAT scores with their applications. . . . Holyoke's president, Joanne Creighton, was personally convinced by reading Nicholas Lemann's book, The Big Test, which documents how the SAT became a tool for class segregation.”

All students of education, sociology, and recent U.S. history—especially those focused on testing, theories of learning, social stratification, or policymaking—will find this book fascinating and alarming.
  

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Review: The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy

User Review  - Johnrylelawsoniii - Goodreads

Like most books that try to be current, this book doesn't look quite as good as it did when it came out. But its main point still has traction. The SAT and its precursors were intended to keep elites ... Read full review

Review: The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy

User Review  - Caroline Hendrie - Goodreads

I've read lots of books on education and its role in society, but this was one of the best. It came out 15 years ago but is more relevant today than ever. That's especially true following the College ... Read full review

Contents

The Moral Equivalent of Bcligion 1 Henry Chauneeys Idea
5
The Glass Slipper
17
Native Intelligence
27
The Natural Aristocracy
46
Victory
53
IQ Joe
70
The Census of One Ability
81
The Standard Caugc
96
The Negro Problem
157
The Fall of Clark Kerr
166
The Invention of the AsianAmerican
174
l0 Mandarins
185
The Weak Spot
198
Working
212
1 The Fall of William Turnbull
218
The Guardians
235

In the System
109
Meritocracv
115
The Master Plan 11 Rah Rah Rah 12
125
Chauncey at Yale
140
Epilogue
337
Notes
352
Acknowledgments
391
Copyright

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About the author (2000)

Born in New Orleans in 1954, Nicholas Lemann has been a journalist for more than twenty years. His last book was the prizewinning The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. He lives in Pelham, New York.

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