The Perfect Score: Iowa and Standardized Testing

Sep 23, 2014

Most of us have filled in those tiny rows of bubbles with a No. 2 pencil. But who creates standardized tests? Who tests them? And why do we have to use a No. 2 pencil in the first place?

The answer to most of those questions can be found right here in Iowa. Iowan E.F. Lindquist, an educational pioneer of the 20th century, created the standardized test as a form of academic competition in the late 1920s. Now nearly a century later, Iowa is still the nerve center for academic testing in the United States.

On this hour of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Steve Dunbar, director of the Iowa Testing Programs, about Lindquist's legacy, and how that translates to bubbled in answer-sheets today. Deborah Harris and Paul Weeks of ACT also join the conversation to weigh in on bias, testing the test, and what a perfect score really means.

Editor’s note: All this week, Sept. 22-27, on Iowa Public Radio’s talk shows River to River and Talk of Iowa, we’re exploring some unexpected things about the state as a part of Iowa Week, a series meant to highlight and uncover the things that make Iowa, well, Iowa. What do you think is unexpected? Tweet at the hashtag #IowaWeek or send your notes to our talk show team at