Reading & Reacting: How useful are tests?

Photo: Taking a Test.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Renato Ganoza

By Daisy Christodoulou @ The Wing to Heaven

This blogpost came to my attention courtesy of Pasi Sahlberg, who retweeted it. It is a book review of Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us, by Daniel Koretz, which looks to be the first in a series of posts on the book.

If reviewing a book is at least in part about making someone want to read the book being reviewed, Christodoulou is successful. I want to start reading it straight away.

Summarizing what she has learned from her reading, Christodoulou asks the question “How useful are tests?” as a prompt of sorts. While she is writing from a UK perspective she highlights the parallels between the UK and US. Here she gets to the heart of one thing she takes away from the text.

Koretz makes a number of arguments that will be very uncomfortable for policymakers, and tells a few anecdotes about his meetings with education policymakers and the errors and false assumptions many of them make. He argues that tests have been misused, that high-stakes tests have created perverse incentives, and that some tests are inimical to the true aims of education. He denies the possibility of an optimal test, and rejects the idea that one measure can ever tell us all we need to know about education. But he is also equally firm that tests can provide us with useful information. He is critical of those who dismiss tests as devices for ‘creating winners and losers’, pointing out rather that tests merely reveal winners and losers. In a sense, his is a kind of Nixon-to-China position – he is able to criticise the ways assessments have been used in such strong terms because his background in devising assessments means that no-one can doubt his commitment to them as providers of useful information. And indeed, Koretz does make it clear that ‘careful testing can in fact give us tremendously valuable information about student achievement that we would otherwise lack and it does rest on several generations of accumulated scientific research and development.’

From this paragraph, it Koretz seems a fairly logical and balanced voice in the polarized debate over testing. Even the most ardent anti-testing advocate would have a hard time suggesting that there is no valuable information to be derived from a well-designed test. That would been awfully hard sell. Equally important, however, is Koretz admission that there is no possibility of an optimal test. So, while tests have value the implication is not to put too much emphasis or overestimate their value.

I like this already and want more from both Christodoulou and the book.

Christodoulou juxtaposes Koretz with EF Lindquist, who must make an appearance in Koretz book. It would seem that misunderstanding Lindquist is a main reason for much of the current craze we are experiencing in education.

Ultimately, I look forward to reading Christodoulou breakdown the book in greater detail. Plus, I am now likely to add one more title to the list of must reads that is beginning to pile rather high.

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