Chapter 8
National Merit

THOSE WHO PRODUCE and administer tests have strong interests in defending their effectiveness, and they often cite statistics to show that the high scores of those who did well on the tests were confirmed by their later performance. Consider, for example, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which each year awards many millions of dollars' worth of college scholarships all over the nation and gives valuable testimonials in the form of certificates of merit to many thousands of runners-up. In its annual report for 1959, it speaks with pride of the accomplishments of the National Merit Scholars in college. Among other things, it says "about 82 per cent [of the scholars] rank in the top quarter of their classes even though many have selected colleges of very high academic standing."

This is a curious boast. In 1959, out of 478,991 candidates for the Merit Scholarships, all but 10,334 were eliminated from further consideration because of their scores on a qualifying test, and ultimately a mere 920 received Merit Scholarships. In four years, out of 959,683 candidates only 3,465 were awarded scholarships. The scholars are certainly a select group. Yet we gather from

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