of books by Anya Kamenetz

ANYA KAMENETZ (1980 - ) is an education blogger for NPR (National Public Radio). She has a degree from Yale University and received the 2009 and 2010 National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association.

The Test
by Anya Kamenetz
  Public Affairs, 2015

This book is one long argument why our schools (and we all) are obsessed with standardized testing, but why we should not and do not have to be. It also offers solutions to better do what standardized tests are supposed to achieve - hold public schools accountable to offer the best education.

Testing is obviously important and tests are used to assess learning. One of the great aspects of Kamenetz's book is the effort to explain what tests can and cannot accomplish and that standardized testing has been hailed as a single method to not only find out what is working or not, but also how to improve our schools when learning is not happening as it should.

I personally do not believe that standardized testing tells us much about the quality of teaching. They are snapshots of the performance on a particular day of a group of students that is supposed to reflect everything that did or did not happen at a local public school over the last year - from the students, to the teachers, to the principals, even an entire school district. They are also supposed to show the influence on learning from the surrounding community, the involvement of parents and their economic status, unemployment, gang activity, busing to create student body diversity, to school vouchers and charter school choices.

If their ever was an overloaded expectation put into one measure, these national standardized tests are at the top of the list. The Test is a book giving the reader information about all these expectations and limitations. It is a one-source reference, well written, where to find information about some of the most contentious issues related to testing, school reform and national education policies such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a well intentioned, but impossible to achieve top-town reform.

While all these aspects matter, there are some basic faults with standardized tests that make them inherently inappropriate. One is our expectation that we can use the tests 'to hold our schools accountable' and punish them financially if they are not up to par (this is actually our 'solution' to the problem). An other is the inherent paradox between our attempt to standardize education for a fair shot at evaluation of all constituent groups (public school districts), while at the same time asking them to reflect the multicultural community they serve. Standardized testing and education does not fit diversity.

The fundamental misconception by the reform-through-testing movement is confounding equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. Standardized testing measures the latter, demands of diversity and promoting individual student's self-esteem reflect the former. What we need is personalized or precision education, akin to the recent call for precision medicine, the fact that each individual requires individual solutions to treat complex problems.


February 16, 2015 /  © 2015 Lukas K. Buehler / go back to Book Review Home