HCEO Director James J. Heckman and co-authors John Eric Humphries and Tim Kautz recently held a book signing for their new book on America’s testing culture, The Myth of Achievement Tests: The GED and the Role of Character in American Life. Prior to the book signing, Prof. Heckman gave a short presentation about the book, which was followed by an interactive question and answer session. The book shows that achievement tests like the GED fail to measure important life skills. The book’s authors offer an in-depth exploration of how the GED came to be used in the United States and how it can distort our notion of high school completion. The authors show that GED recipients score as well on achievement tests as high school graduates who do not enroll in college, but that high school graduates vastly outperform GED recipients in terms of their earnings, employment opportunities, educational attainment, and health. GED recipients are different from high school graduates, but in what ways? The authors show that the differences in success between GED recipients and high school graduates are driven by character skills. Character skills like conscientiousness, perseverance, sociability, and curiosity are not reflected in achievement test scores. Using the GED as a case study, the authors explore what achievement tests miss and what that missing information could mean for our educational system.
The book signing was held at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore near the University of Chicago. The event brought a large and diverse audience from the University and the larger Chicago area. Professionals from the achievement testing field were able to question the authors directly on their findings, and students had a chance to bring new perspectives to the discussion of achievement tests.