The Alpha and Beta Tests of World War I
The first mental tests designed to be used for mass, group testing were developed by psychologists for the U.S. Army in 1917-1918. The group tests were modeled after intelligence tests designed for individual use in one-on-one assessment. In developing the mental tests, the psychologists subscribed to the position that one could be quite intelligent, but illiterate or not proficient in the English language. Based on this reasoning, two major tests were developed, the Army Alpha for literate groups, and the Army Beta for illiterates, low literates or non-English speaking (Yerkes, 1921). Both tests were based on the theoretical position that intelligence was an inherited trait, and the assumption was made that native intelligence was being assessed. Each test was made- up of a number of subtests (Figure 4, p. 24), the contents of which differed depending on whether the test was for literates or illiterates, low literates or non- English speakers.
Figure 3, p.23 shows the results of assessments with the Alpha and Beta tests for several special studies. These results show trends that have persisted up to the present time with national assessments. First, for both the Alpha and Beta tests, scores generally increase as years of education increase. Second, whites exceed blacks at all levels of education. Third, scores for Northern blacks exceed those of Southern blacks.
As mentioned earlier, the fact that poorly educated Officers performed well on the Alpha test was interpreted as indicating that the Alpha measured native intelligence. However, careful examination of the types of items that made-up each subtest suggests that literacy practices may have been higher among the Officers and this may have led to their improved performance on the Alpha test.
The Alpha Test
As indicated in Figure 4, p. 24, the Alpha test battery for literates included a wide range of tests of knowledge and various cognitive skills. Using the simple model of the human cognitive system given in Figure 1, p. 4, the Alpha test can be reinterpreted not as a test of native intelligence but as a sampling of a wide variety of cognitive abilities by addressing the person's knowledge base by both oral language and written language.
Test 1: Following Oral Directions, involves auding and comprehending simple or complex oral language directions and looking at and marking in the appropriate places on the answer sheet. To a large extent, this is a test of the ability to hold information in working memory and to combine earlier instructions with later ones to determine the correct marking responses.
The role of special bodies of knowledge in the performance of information processing activities is clearly illustrated in the remaining tests.
Test 2: Arithmetical Problems, requires both the ability to read and comprehend the stated problem and the knowledge of arithmetic to perform the computations called for. Again, working memory is stressed by having to hold more than one phrase in it that is information bearing, then combining the phrases and performing the required computations. Mathematics knowledge is also required for Test 6.
Test3: Practical Judgment, clearly requires reading and comprehending language. Additionally, however, it requires knowledge of culturally, normative expectations to make the "correct" choice. In terms of the developmental model of literacy, this means that the person's mind would have had to develop in an external context or environment in which the information needed to make the normatively "correct" response would be presented in some form.
|Previous Page||Table of Contents||Next Page|