By David Evans and David Glovin
Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Kurt Landgraf, chief executive officer of Educational Testing Service, the world's largest testing organization, has a secret: He wasn't a good standardized exam taker.
``I did very poorly on my SAT,'' says Landgraf, who scored a 1060 out of a possible 1600 points on the college admissions test, which ETS produces for the College Board.
Two million high schoolers take the SAT every year in hopes of gaining entry to one of the 3,000 colleges and universities that use the results to gauge admission. In addition, 45 million U.S. public school students will be tested in reading and math this year under No Child Left Behind, the school reform measure that became law in 2002.
Some of them, like Landgraf, won't do well and will later command top jobs. Other good students will be left back or denied graduation from high school because of bad test scores, says Robert Slavin, co-director of the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. ``That's a very big problem,'' he says. ``There are kids who are successful in school and not on tests.''
Landgraf, 60, went on to earn a bachelor's degree in economics and business administration in 1968 from Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. Before joining Princeton, New Jersey-based ETS, he served as chief financial officer and then chief operating officer of DuPont Co., the third-largest U.S. chemical maker.
Good Job on GRE
``By the time I graduated from college, I did pretty well on the GRE, and I did pretty well in graduate school,'' says Landgraf, referring to what was then known as the Graduate Record Exam, which some universities require for admission to their graduate schools.
Landgraf earned three master's degrees: one in economics from University Park-based Pennsylvania State University; another, in education administration, from New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Rutgers University; and a third, in sociology, from Kalamazoo-based Western Michigan University.
While standardized exams are required for millions of public school students, college applicants and ordinary job seekers, ETS doesn't test its own prospective employees. And Landgraf doesn't think a test would be a useful measure for selecting top managers.
``Choosing a senior-level person is complex,'' Landgraf says. ``I don't think there would be a significant demand for assessments as we know them in the corporate world.''
The New York-based College Board introduced the SAT in 1926. In 80 years, more than 50 million college hopefuls have taken it. College Board President Gaston Caperton, governor of West Virginia from 1988 to 1996, was among the ones who didn't fare so well. ``I'm dyslexic, so I did terrible on these kinds of tests,'' Caperton, 66, says.
Roderick Paige, the U.S. Education Secretary who oversaw a surge in standardized testing spawned by No Child Left Behind, also was a lousy tester. ``I was a really bad test taker,'' says Paige, 73, now chairman of Chartwell Education Group LLC, a Washington-based education-consulting company.
Another self-confessed rotten test taker is Raymond Simon, deputy U.S. Secretary of Education since May 2005. Simon, 61, served as chief state school officer in Arkansas for six years, after beginning his career as a math teacher. He earned a bachelor's and master's degree in mathematics from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
Simon says his daughter, Sandra Simon Halliburton, a cardiac-imaging scientist at the Cleveland Clinic, also did poorly on tests. Halliburton, 34, received her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
``There's definitely a discrepancy between my academic performance and my standardized test scores,'' she says. ``I never had a good explanation for it.'' Halliburton was a straight-A student through college, yet she scored below average on her physics GRE.
Simon has one explanation: ``Some students don't test well,'' he says. Even so, he says, testing is needed to assess where students are having difficulty and to comply with the requirements of No Child Left Behind. ``Testing is still vital,'' he says.