The State of Washington Lied To Me When I Was in High School

WA state flagSometime during my sophomore or junior year of high school, I was required to take the Washington Pre-College Test. This test was necessary to apply to universities in the state. I intended to apply to both Washington State University and the University of Washington, so I dutifully signed up for the test and spent a Saturday morning on the multiple choice exam.

I took the PSAT and the SAT and some AP tests as well, but the Washington Pre-College Test was unique among the standardized tests I took. It included an aptitude section, designed to point high-school students toward career fields in which they might excel.

Or, as a scholarly article put it:

“The program of academic prediction in Washington State is unique among college testing programs in that it is directed . . . at the decision-making needs of the average high school graduate. This typical student is visualized by the program as having to make one or more educational choices (selecting courses or a major) and having to make them against a background of aptitudes and training which may spell success for some choices and failure for others.” [from A RESEARCH REVIEW OF THE WASHINGTON PRE-COLLEGE TESTING PROGRAM, by CLIFFORD E. LUNNEBORG, University of Washington]

As I recall, the aptitude portion of the test required that I select which of two answers best suited me. For example, I could say I liked to (a) read books or (b) clean up blood.

Now that wasn’t precisely one of the questions, but I remember that there were several questions that mentioned blood and gore. This is relevant, because I deliberately chose the alternative that didn’t mention blood or gore at every opportunity I had.

And yet, the State of Washington decided that the best occupation for me would be nursing. When I got the results of the Washington Pre-College Test back, that’s what it said, in black and white.

Keep in mind that this was in the early 1970s. I realized immediately that there was a significant gender bias in the test. Why else would most of the boys have rated highly on forestry, while every girl I knew showed great aptitude for nursing?

And I’m not the only high school student to have experienced questionable results. I discovered another blogger (male) who was one of the boys directed toward forestry. He deliberately chose another career.

So when I saw my Washington Pre-College Test results I immediately discounted them. I wasn’t going to get any help from the state in selecting my career. Ultimately, I became a lawyer. Then a human resources professional. Then a mediator and writer.

In none of those fields have I ever had to deal with blood. I did manage a corporate medical department in one of my HR roles, but I stayed away from the blood.

At a later point in my life, I had to take another aptitude test. That test told me I was ideally suited to be an IRS examiner. I didn’t like that answer either. But at least that career wouldn’t have involved blood. And it was too late—I’d already chosen my own career. Or make that careers.

Have you ever disagreed with standardized test results?

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  1. I am not sure about ever being told by a test what I should become but I am so impressed with your accomplishments. I guess I never realized you were a lawyer. I would be so glad you chose to follow your own choices because you could not have been as successful, especially not liking the alternative of nursing. I always wanted to teach, but when I took my GRE, my wonderful sister in law told me I should switch to being a lawyer, take the LSAT or something, since I had been a child advocate and was going to take Master’s in Education coursework to stay in special ed preschool. My elementary degree was fine with Ohio, but not if I taught preschool, so had to get a Master’s. She said my scores were so high I could achieve whatever I wanted. No, I sadly never wanted to be a lawyer. And I know she is partial to me, so she probably was complimenting me more than necessary. (She and my brother are both professors.) I like that standardized testing is also taken with a ‘grain of salt,’ where (great) teachers realize there is more to a student than what the test reflects.

    • Thanks for the comment. Those aptitude tests should be taken with a grain of salt. Doing something we enjoy is as important as doing something we are good at.

  2. I enjoy your blog and this brought back some memories for me – graduated in Tacoma in 1981. However, I had read the blog you referenced above before I read yours – I’m pretty sure the author is a woman. I agree the test had gender bias – I remember all of the mechanical related questions and none of the girls had ever taken any kind of shop classes – no questions about Home Ec or Sewing, as I recall.

  3. Now I am even more curious about my test results. I never received them although I still have my receipt. I joined the Army, got married, and moved a lot all the while carrying my receipt in a keepsake box. I took the test in 1987 btw.

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