Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Teaching and Learning

First Advisor

Bonnie Sunstein


Written at a time when the number of students taking standardized tests in U.S. public schools is at an all-time high, this dissertation presents and analyzes the contribution of standardized testing to intellectual identity formation as portrayed within the oral histories of four adults from the post-"A Nation at Risk" (1983) and pre-"No Child Left Behind" (2001) eras. The study uses methods from discourse analysis and oral history research to find stories that serve as artifacts of the history of standardized testing and related educational and testing policies. Each oral history is unique and has a connection to the University of Iowa and its role in the history of testing. The five participants share stories exploring their experiences with the SAT, ACT, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, intelligence tests, and tests for Attention Deficit Disorder and placement exams. Each story explores what can happen to a person's intellectual identity when standardized testing forms relationships with that individual's history with trauma, race, class, gender, hetero-normativity and self-esteem. By design, this study is less focused on providing broad extrapolations than in placing individual oral histories in conversation with one another and contextualizing them within the history of intelligence testing and achievement testing. It does so with the goal of conveying the long-term effects of standardized testing on each of the four storytellers, and suggests researchers have not given enough attention to examining ways standardized tests interact with how individuals shape their intellectual identity. In doing so, it complicates the arguments of standardized testing advocates who claim the tests can achieve cultural neutrality even though they have sprung from norms and methods and measures deemed valuable by a culture. This study invites future research on similar questions, including how a belief in the objectivity of standardized testing imbues it with credibility and shapes the expectations we have of others and ourselves.


Assessment, Intellectual Identity, Intelligence Testing, Oral History, Public Policy, Standardized Testing


vii, 184 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 175-184).


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Copyright © 2014 Stephen Bishop McNutt