On The Folly Of Enforced Standardized Testing

without sanity checks.

There are lessons from fields other than public education to be considered.

Years ago, I obtained the FCC Radiotelephone Operator First Class License. In that era it, along with the Amateur Extra Class license (DE KL7F), was considered to be functionally equivalent to a BS in Electrical Engineering by some firms when making hiring decisions. In the broadcast industry, it was required in order to function as the Chief Engineer of a radio station.

When I took up my duties at the AM station in Kodiak, AK, one of the things required by regulation was to gather copies of the licenses of all the persons who would be “operating” the station (i.e. pulling a board shift) and to place them in a container where the FCC inspectors, should they ever show up, could easily find them. Doing so, I found that three other employees had First Phone tickets.

I asked the station manager: “If you already have three Firsts on staff, why did you hire me?”

“Heh,” quoth he. “Those guys have troubles with light switches. Not one of them could tell you which end of a resistor is the cathode.”

It turned out that, because of FCC regulations requiring that a First Phone operator be on duty whenever the antenna system was “directional” (i.e. after local sundown), and due to economic considerations discouraging a station from having more than one person pulling the night shifts, stations tended to hire announcers/operators who had a First Phone ticket.

But passing the First exams was A Hard Thing, and Johnny Goodpipes and Fred Tightboard weren’t at all inclined to take up electronics in any serious manner.

Whatever were they to do?

Well, they could enroll in any number of schools that, after you paid them $N,000, would cram you and drill you until you could pass Elements I, II, III and IV. No matter how many times you went to the Houston FCC office and took the tests.

The end result: rampant fully-licensed electronic illiteracy.  

Eventually the FCC dropped the regulation, ended the issuance of First Phone tickets, and declared that Station Management were now fully responsible for determining that the station was being operated in compliance with technical standards.

When last I checked, the General Radio Operator License (which replaced the First — they mailed me a new certificate) is now only required for the person who maintains the studio-to-transmitter radio link.

Be very careful what you incent.

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