The Sphinx of American Education: Ralph Tyler's Peculiar Relationship with Standardized Testing


  • James E. Schul



Standardized testing currently dominates the American educational landscape. Federal and state policy makers use standardized tests as the primary means to evaluate school performance, resulting in schools narrowing their curriculum toward experiences specifically aimed toward improving test scores. Ralph Tyler, the renowned evaluation expert from the twentieth century, had much to say about how standardized tests should be used, with warnings about the detrimental effects that ill-advised use of these tests can have on the school experience. Yet, his advice on tests garner little attention by policy makers and the public writ large. In this article, I examine Tyler's advice about how tests should be used in the school experience and then explore how Tyler's Rationale for educational evaluation may actually be linked to the contemporary paradigm that embraces high stakes testing. Although Tyler's Rationale never endorsed high stakes assessments, policy makers and educational evaluators alike, in the wake of the contemporary standards and accountability movement and the spirit of social efficiency, use the linearity of Tyler's Rationale for educational evaluation to justify the wide and farreaching use of standardized testing. These policy makers, I discuss, should strongly consider Tyler's warnings about the misuse of standardized testing in the evaluation of a school curriculum.