Making a Grade: Victorian Examinations and the Rise of Standardized Testing

By James Elwick

© 2021

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.

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Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.0in x 9.0in
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SKU# HE000905

  • AVAILABLE APR 2021

    From: $52.50

    Regular Price: $70.00

    ISBN 9781487508937
  • PUBLISHED MAR 2021

    From: $52.50

    Regular Price: $70.00

Quick Overview

Making a Grade takes historiographic and sociological perspectives developed to understand large-scale scientific and technical systems and uses them to highlight the standardization that went into "standardized testing."

Making a Grade: Victorian Examinations and the Rise of Standardized Testing

By James Elwick

© 2021

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.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.0in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    "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
  • Author Information

    James Elwick is an associate professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at York University.
  • Table of contents

    List of Figures
    Preface and Acknowledgments

    Introduction

    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

    Conclusion

    Appendix A: Important Dates
    Appendix B: Biographical List
    Notes
    Bibliography

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