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Subject: Henry Chauncey, Founder of the Educational Testing Service

dies at 97
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Date Posted: December 04, 2002 3:15:27 EDT

Henry Chauncey, founder of the Educational Testing Service who shaped the nation's standardized testing practices and through them, a new meritocracy, died yesterday at his home in Shelburne, Vt. He was 97.

With the backing of his patron, James Bryant Conant, the president of Harvard University, Mr. Chauncey helped to create a system that opened the most elite universities to promising young people who performed well on standardized tests. He began proselytizing for the use of the tests in the late 1930's, when as assistant dean of the faculty at Harvard and chairman of its scholarship committee, he persuaded several Ivy League schools to use multiple choice aptitude tests in choosing scholarship students.

"He believed in meritocracy; he believed that the people who should be admitted to colleges were people who deserved it based on their intelligence and achievement," said Mr. Chauncey's son Henry, who is known as Sam. "When he started the national scholarship program at Harvard, it only admitted young people from blueblood schools."

"He crisscrossed the country, looking for qualified people from little-known high schools," Sam Chauncey said. "He found James Tobin and Casper Weinberger and John Morton Blum. But he knew he needed a better way to measure the young person from Topeka, Kan., against one from a well-known school, and that was his motive in starting E.T.S."

Since then, standardized tests like the SAT have become a central feature of American academic life.

"He was a remarkable person, a really important historical figure," said Nicholas Lemann, the author of "The Big Test" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), a history of standardized testing. "Together, he and Conant created a system that shapes the life of most Americans. There's nothing quite like it in any other country, and it wouldn't have happened without them."

Mr. Lemann added: "Henry was creature of the old elite. He exemplified the best qualities of that elite: he was very public-spirited, positive, and energetic. There's some irony in the fact that he used those qualities to work ceaselessly to replace the elite he grew up in with a new elite that he probably wouldn't have been in."

Mr. Chauncey's family background placed him squarely in the old elite. The first of his ancestors to come to America, a Puritan minister who was a professor of Greek at Cambridge, left England for Massachusetts in 1637 after he was imprisoned for publishing a treatise protesting the placement of a railing around the communion table.

Mr. Chauncey was born Feb. 9, 1905, in Brooklyn. His father, Egisto, was rector of Episcopal churches, first in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and then in Columbus, Ohio. Henry was sent to Groton, where he was senior prefect.

For all its social standing, the family had little money, so when Mr. Chauncey finished at Groton, he attended Ohio State University for a year, until a Wall Street financier helped finance his Harvard education.

At Ohio State, Mr. Chauncey became interested in the emerging field of mental testing. At Harvard he majored in philosophy but took some courses in psychology and other subjects that touched on testing at the education school.

In his early years, it might have seemed that Mr. Chauncey's energies would find their outlet in sports. He began playing baseball as a child in Mount Kisco, and at Groton he was captain of the baseball team and played football and basketball. At Harvard, Mr. Chauncey was a football and baseball star. In 1927, he twice turned down offers to play professionally with the Boston Braves.

Mr. Chauncey graduated from Harvard in 1928. A year later, he was back there as assistant dean of freshman, responsible for administering freshmen scholarships, and assistant coach of freshman football and baseball.

Mr. Chauncey resigned from Harvard in 1945 to become associate director, then director, of the College Entrance Examination Board in Princeton.

The Educational Testing Service was a post-World War II creation. In 1946, with hundreds of thousands of veterans clamoring to enroll in college, the Carnegie Committee on Testing recommended merging the American Council of Education, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Testing and the College Entrance Examination Board to streamline the college admission process.

Mr. Chauncey was president of E.T.S. from its beginning in 1947 until his retirement in 1970.

`'Henry did much more than make large-scale testing a reality," said Eleanor Horne, a vice president of E.T.S. "He insisted that testing practices be grounded in research and that it be dedicated to meeting the needs of individuals and educational institutions, and not testing companies."

Mr. Chauncey was married three times. He was divorced from his first wife, Elizabeth Phalen. His second wife, Laurie Worcester, died. He is survived by Ms. Phalen; his third wife, Janet; eight children, William, Henry, Ann, Donald, Susan C. Horkey, Caroline T., Deborah L. and Sarah K.; 14 grandchildren; and 3 great-grandchildren.

Mr. Chauncey had honorary degrees from Tufts College (1952), Rider College (1966), Ohio State University (1968) and Washington University (1971.)

In "The Big Test," Mr. Lemann describes Mr. Chauncey's keen interest in all kinds of tests, including Rorschach blots and one on practical judgment developed by a man in Illinois. The book says Mr. Chauncey sought to have E.T.S. start a television quiz program in which questions from ordinary people would be used to test a contestant's practical judgment, which he felt might be as important as scholastic aptitude.

"It's impossible in retrospect to go through the list of tests that attracted his enthusiastic attention over the years," Mr. Lemann wrote, "without feeling a measure of gratitude that each of them did not become a basic requirement, as the SAT did."

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