Book of the Month

Back to March 2015 Ed Reporter

Book of the Month

The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have to Be, Anya Kamenetz, 2015, Public Affairs Books, $25.99

“Teaching to the test is failing,” according to author and NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz. Parents and educators agree with her. The test-centric education children are receiving in public schools has devolved into a race for good test scores, resulting in students being short-changed.

Common Core and the standardized tests it mandates are the latest in a series of policy missteps made by those who believe American children were poorly educated before measurement became the focus of education.

The brief tests that were formerly given to students have been replaced by in-depth, complex, and time-consuming exams given to even very young children.

Kamenetz explains the history of K-12 test-taking from the Iowa tests begun in the 1940s until the point when tests became intrusive. This began with Clinton’s Goals 2000. Another turning point was when President Geore W. Bush and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy joined forces to come up with No Child Left Behind. Suddenly, all students had to “test” at a certain level by a certain date. Common Core tests have made the situation even worse.

Today’s tests are developmentally inappropriate for children; are causing them fear and turmoil; and have spawned a revolt among concerned parents.

Kamenetz lists problems with testing as currently done in elementary, middle, and high schools and explains each one in depth. The problems are:

  1. Tests test the wrong things.
  2. Tests waste time and money.
  3. Students end up hating school.
  4. Teachers end up hating teaching.
  5. Tests penalize diverse thought.
  6. Tests cause “teaching to the test.”
  7. High stakes value of tests encourages cheating.
  8. Tests can be “gamed” by states, districts, and students.
  9. Tests being used are full of errors.
  10. The next generation of tests will be even worse for students.

Any one of the above problems is cause for major concern. Taken as a whole, they should result in an immediate halt to Common Core testing in all states. Tests are a “focal point of resistance” for those in favor of local control of education and test resistance has “supporters on the right, left, and in-between,” according to the author.

Kamenetz includes a section about how to opt out of tests. She suggests that the ability to opt-out of testing may soon be tested in the courts. The author also points out that testing companies are benefiting while students are not.