The Psychometric Movement and Trait and Factor Theory
In 1905, Alfred Binet and his colleague T. Simon developed an instrument to measure mental ability. It was used to classify students according to ability in the Paris school system. The notion of using standardized tests to track students according to ability caught on in the United States. When the United States entered the First World War, the government sought a means to classify the millions of young men entering the military. In 1917, a group of psychologists developed the Army Alpha (paper and pencil) and Beta (performance) tests. This popularized the use of group testing. The testing movement collided with the vocational guidance movement, and what emerged was the Trait and Factor Theory, which promoted the use of diagnostic and standardized assessments to identify individual strengths and preferences. This data was then used to advise people about occupations for which they were best suited. E. G. Williamson was a champion of the Trait and Factor Theory and recommended applying it not only to vocational guidance, but also to normal developmental issues (Wedding & Corsini, 2014). Tests and inventories of career interests and aptitudes are still used by counselors.
In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik. This jolted the United States into the realization that they were falling behind in the space race. In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) that provided funding for guidance institutes to train teachers to become guidance counselors. The guidance counselors were charged with identifying and tracking talented youth into science and mathematics. This movement greatly increased the number of guidance counselors in schools and established counselor education programs in universities across the nation. Today there is a similar push to identify and nurture students with potential in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) subjects.