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Books: A Scathing, Humorous Look Inside The Testing Industry

There are lots of reasons to enjoy Making the Grades, Todd Farley's insider expose of the standardized testing industry.  The book is an amusing and disturbing inside look at an absurd, "Office" -like world of misfit employees and mind-numbing corporate directives.  It's both a mea culpa (Farley worked in the industry for 15 years) and a warning (there's nothing reliable or even standardized about tests).

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Open-ended and short-response items -- testing's attempt to be more wholistic -- have distorted accountability rather than improving it. Everyone's gaming the accountability monster, including the folks who are paid to implement it. 

There were some things I wanted to know more about, including the author.  Fifteen years is a long time to hate a job you hated pretty much day one -- what does that do to a person?  Farley doesn't go much past the abundant and colorful anecdotes and give us more depth and development of his own and other characters.  And, on a policy level, there's no real alternative being proposed here.  We're warned, sure, but we're still stuck.  Testing is deeply flawed -- maybe more so than many of us realize.  But few trust educators (or doctors or airline pilots, for that matter) to do their jobs without supervision any more.  So what are we to do?  Go back to multiple choice items?  Or go the other direction?

Still:  more than worth a look.  Check it out.  For a taste, read Farley's New York Times oped from last month.


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Broader, Bolder (for one) is pretty clear in their advocacy of a range of measures, including qualitative ones, particularly including school inspections. It isn't that hard to wrap your brain around, nor is it unusual globally in education, or in the US in other fields.

You make some very good points, Alexander. I've also liked what I've read in the book, but I've seen a few bloggers point to the book as a reason to criticize "bubble tests." In our time of constant famine, I worry that the book might actually reinforce the value of bubble tests over tests with open-ended questions.

Farley's book reminds us of just how much work we have to do to improve our assessments. It's not enough just to include open-ended items.

I think you make a great point about how educators are not trusted to do their own job. The tests are more to make sure that a teacher is teaching as much as possible. Where I teach at least it seems the only people that the scores have any impact on are the teachers. Only the teachers are looked down upon, not given raises, or even fired for the students not doing well on the tests. Teachers are pressed to teach to the test and try to get the students to do as well as possible so they can benefit.

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