Cloth $55.00 ISBN: 9780226100098 Published January 2014
E-book $7.00 to $44.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226100128 Published January 2014

The Myth of Achievement Tests

The GED and the Role of Character in American Life

Edited by James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, and Tim Kautz

Edited by James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, and Tim Kautz

464 pages | 153 line drawings, 34 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Cloth $55.00 ISBN: 9780226100098 Published January 2014
E-book $7.00 to $44.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226100128 Published January 2014
Achievement tests play an important role in modern societies. They are used to evaluate schools, to assign students to tracks within schools, and to identify weaknesses in student knowledge. The GED is an achievement test used to grant the status of high school graduate to anyone who passes it. GED recipients currently account for 12 percent of all high school credentials issued each year in the United States. But do achievement tests predict success in life?

The Myth of Achievement Tests shows that achievement tests like the GED fail to measure important life skills. James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, Tim Kautz, and a group of scholars offer an in-depth exploration of how the GED came to be used throughout the United States and why our reliance on it is dangerous. Drawing on decades of research, the authors show that, while GED recipients score as well on achievement tests as high school graduates who do not enroll in college, high school graduates vastly outperform GED recipients in terms of their earnings, employment opportunities, educational attainment, and health. The authors show that the differences in success between GED recipients and high school graduates are driven by character skills. Achievement tests like the GED do not adequately capture character skills like conscientiousness, perseverance, sociability, and curiosity. These skills are important in predicting a variety of life outcomes. They can be measured, and they can be taught.
Using the GED as a case study, the authors explore what achievement tests miss and show the dangers of an educational system based on them. They call for a return to an emphasis on character in our schools, our systems of accountability, and our national dialogue.

Eric Grodsky, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Andrew Halpern-Manners, Indiana University Bloomington
Paul A. LaFontaine, Federal Communications Commission
Janice H. Laurence, Temple University
Lois M. Quinn, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
Pedro L. Rodríguez, Institute of Advanced Studies in Administration
John Robert Warren, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Eric A. Hanushek, Stanford University
“With The Myth of Achievement Tests, James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, and Tim Kautz have offered a wealth of insightful analysis and brought together a number of topics often treated separately to inform a comprehensive discussion of the growth, character, and impact of the GED that is truly monumental. This is a first-rate book.”
Angela Lee Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania
“A masterful synthesis of the research literature on the cognitive and character skills central to successfully navigating both school and life.”
Richard V. Reeves, Brookings Institution
"Remarkable. A display of technical virtuosity in the service of an ambitious agenda: restoring character to the heart of US education policy. Analyzing the ‘natural experiment’ of the GED program, Heckman and his team show that it is lack of character, rather than lack of academic skill, that hobbles life chances today. Everybody interested in education, social mobility, and inequality has to read this book: anyone interested in the future of America ought to."
Richard Boyle, president and CEO, ECMC Foundation
“Every American interested in our most valuable asset—our children—should read The Myth of Achievement Tests. Education reform, as a national enterprise, has lacked a coherent, organized agenda. Heckman and colleagues suggest that the central feature of any nationwide education reform agenda is an understanding of the importance of character to lifelong success. The research in this book can edify education reform, providing the base for a national enterprise that is coherent and organized.”
Chicago Tribune
"For decades, the creators of the GED program have promoted it as a second chance for high school dropouts. . . . As promising as that sounds, the GED program is actually failing many of the students it purports to help, argues The Myth of Achievement Tests. . . . While the authors are quick to note that some have benefited from the test, they contend the GED alone isn't enough. Although those taking the test score roughly the same as high school graduates who didn't go on to college, many lack what are referred to as 'character skills,' such as persistence, motivation and reliability."
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