Making a Grade: Victorian Examinations and the Rise of Standardized Testing
Published: March 2021© 2021
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 304 Pages
Illustrations: 6 b&w illustrations
Dimensions: 6.00 x 9.00
304 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 6 b&w illustrations
Ebook - PDF
Starting in the 1850s achievement tests became standardized in the British Isles, and were administered on an industrial scale. By the end of the century more than two million people had written mass exams, particularly in science, technology, and mathematics. Some candidates responded to this standardization by cramming or cheating; others embraced the hope that such tests rewarded not only knowledge but also merit.
Written with humour, Making a Grade looks at how standardized testing practices quietly appeared, and then spread worldwide. This book situates mass exams, marks, and credentials in an emerging paper-based meritocracy, arguing that such exams often first appeared as "cameras" to neutrally record achievement, and then became "engines" to change education as people tailored their behaviour to fit these tests. Taking the perspectives of both examiners and examinees, Making a Grade claims that our own culture’s desire for accountability through objective testing has a long history.
List of Figures
Preface and Acknowledgments
Part One: Examinations
1. “The Age of Examinations”: A Historical Sketch
2. Monetizing Marks: The Political Economy of Examinations
3. An Epistemology of the Mundane: Dissecting One Examination
Part Two: Examiners
4. Daguerreotypes of the Mind: Paper, Partition, and Specialization
5. Machining Minds: Commensuration, Tabulation, and Standardization
6. Thin Descriptions: Credentials and Other Signals
Part Three: Examinees
7. Learning and Earning: Coaching or Cramming?
8. Immoral Economies: How to Cheat on a Victorian Exam
9. Economies, Remoralized: Examinations as Technologies of Inclusion
Appendix A: Important Dates
Appendix B: Biographical List
"This is a book which is committed, from the outset, to the reconstruction and analysis of numerous aspects of the rise of examinations. It involves some excellent detailed recovery of individual cases from a range of archives, and the author is to be congratulated on his nose for a good source."Roy Lowe, British Journal of Educational Studies
"It was a noble ideal to hold teachers and students alike to the highest ideals of scholarly attainment by subjecting every student of every subject to the same examination at the conclusion of their studies. It gave rise, however, to a cornucopia of evasions and distortions: cramming, bribery, and surreptitious advantages for insiders. It also distorted the curriculum in favor of readily testable knowledge. In Making a Grade, James Elwick provides an engaging introduction to the ironies of meritocracy, revealing dimensions of Victorianism that most of us had not suspected."Theodore Porter, Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles
"Reading Making a Grade is an uplifting experience: drawing on his immensely detailed historical research and his expertise as a teacher, James Elwick makes the history of educational testing a joy to read. This volume sparkles as it skilfully narrates the rise of the ever-contested infrastructure of implementing ‘standards’ in pedagogy, the diverse experiences of the pupils examined, and the challenges facing those who sought to win trust in ‘standardized’ results."Graeme Gooday, School of Philosophy, Religion, and History of Science, University of Leeds
Related Blog Posts
James Elwick, author of Making a Grade discusses his new book and looks at how standardized testing practices quietly appeared during the Victorian era, and then spread worldwide.