Breaking down these multifaceted skills into testable qualities is difficult, and it’s something educators have been trying and failing to do for more than half a century. The first president of ETS, which has long administered the SAT, set out in 1948 to develop a test that could evaluate a student’s intellectual stamina, ability to get along with others, and so on—but the company eventually concluded it was too hard to measure in a reliable way. More recently, in the late 1980s and ’90s, the Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner participated in an effort to design new kinds of tests in the humanities that could be graded objectively.
Ultimately, he found that the nuance required to measure softer skills collided with the demands of standardization. When a test needs to reliably compare students from across schools and districts, “there is pressure to simplify, have ironclad rubrics, essentially move toward multiple choice,” Gardner wrote in an e-mail.
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