The Test

The Test

Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing-but You Don't Have to Be

Book - 2015
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"[The anti-testing] movement now has a guidebook. . . . Kamenetz shows how fundamentally American it would be to move toward a more holistic system." - New York Times Book Review

The Test is an essential and critically acclaimed book for any parent confounded by our national obsession with standardized testing. It recounts the shocking history and tempestuous politics of testing and borrows strategies from fields as diverse as games, neuroscience, and ancient philosophy to help children cope. It presents the stories of families, teachers, and schools maneuvering within and beyond the existing educational system, playing and winning the testing game. And it points the way toward a hopeful future of better tests and happier kids.
Publisher: New York :, PublicAffairs,, 2015, ©2015.
Edition: First Edition.
ISBN: 9781610394413
Branch Call Number: 371. 26 KAM
Characteristics: 262 pages ; 25 cm.

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dnk
Feb 02, 2018

The Test by Anya Kamenetz forces the reader to ask three questions: What are we testing in schools? Why are we testing it? How are we testing it? While modern readers may have an answer that reflects our current political and historical context- student achievement/teacher competence/school progress- those answers haven't always been the same.

For as long as children have been in public schools, parents have protested testing and surprisingly, many of those arguments sound very similar to the ones we hear today: they force teachers to teach to the test, they impede a student's ability to learn and they reflect only a snapshot in time, not the actual process of learning. Further, while politicians have fretted about our test scores in global rankings, almost no one tests their children as frequently as we do. While we use inexpensive, multiple choice tests multiple times a year on the same children, countries like Great Britain give one, more expensive but more comprehensive exam at the end of an academic career. Are there other countries that test as frequently as we do? Yes, but students in those countries (particularly South Korea) are among the most miserable on the planet.

It's an understatement to say that Kamenetz is a critic of our current system, and she outlines many of the ways that it simply doesn't make sense to give inaccurate assessments so much weight in determining the fates of students, teachers and schools. Some of the examples illustrating her point are just awful, particularly about the little girl in Florida who was kept back a grade because of a state assessment...and then promoted after her parents found the right test prep professional.

While the critique of the current system and how we got here was impressive but expected, I was not looking forward to the "But You Don't Have To Be" segment. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she not only included opting out of the tests altogether but also ways that the system of testing (and education itself) can be improved and what steps parents can take. As a parent who both homeschools and sends a child to a pilot public high school, I found myself nodding along as she described a system of Performance Assessment (already used by a consortium of schools in New York and a handful of other states) supported by the best in technology, psychology and even game design. Pieces of this are already in use, and the potential that could be realized for students if all were combined is genuinely exciting, in small part because it means assessments could take place in the background, and in large part because it would actually support learning.

That future is not going to happen soon, however, and the children who need to live through the transition period need solutions now. What Kamenetz suggests can be boiled down to de-emphasizing the tests and re-emphasizing the whole child, using such techniques as mindfulness and journaling. She also recommends that parents encourage children to pursue activities that genuinely interest them. Finally, she admonishes that parents need to reflect on what kind of behaviors they're modeling; if children see their parents exhibiting over achieving traits and putting pressure on themselves to meet their goals, they shouldn't be surprised that their children mimic them when it comes to The Test.

Kamenetz does an excellent job telling the winding and at times disturbing story of testing our children. I recommend this for anyone who has concerned themselves with education policy in the United States.

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