Kamenetz, A. (2015). The Test: Why our schools are obsessed with standardized testing—but you don’t have to be [Book Review]

Richard P. Phelps, via a kind email:

Perhaps it is because I avoid most tabloid journalism that I found journalist Anya Kamenetz’s loose cannon Introduction to The Test: Why our schools are obsessed with standardized testing—but you don’t have to be so jarring. In the space of seven pages, she employs the pejoratives “test obsession”, “test score obsession”, “testing obsession”, “insidious … test creep”, “testing mania”, “endless measurement”, “testing arms race”, “high-stakes madness”, “obsession with metrics”, and “test-obsessed culture”.

Those un-measured words fit tightly alongside assertions that education, or standardized, or high-stakes testing is responsible for numerous harms ranging from stomachaches, stunted spirits, family stress, “undermined” schools, demoralized teachers, and paralyzed public debate, to the Great Recession (pp. 1, 6, 7), which was initially sparked by problems with mortgage-backed financial securities (and parents choose home locations in part based on school average test scores). Oh, and tests are “gutting our country’s future competitiveness,” too (p. 1).

Kamenetz made almost no effort to search for counter evidence[1]: “there’s lots of evidence that these tests are doing harm, and very little in their favor” (p. 13). Among her several sources for information of the relevant research literature are arguably the country’s most prolific proponents of the notion that little to no research exists showing educational benefits to testing.[2] Ergo, why bother to look for it?

Had a journalist covered the legendary feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families, and talked only to the Hatfields, one might expect a surplus of reportage favoring the Hatfields and disfavoring the McCoys, and a deficit of reportage favoring the McCoys and disfavoring the Hatfields.

Looking at tests from any angle, Kamenetz sees only evil. Tests are bad because tests were used to enforce Jim Crow discrimination (p. 63). Tests are bad because some of the first scientists to use intelligence tests were racists (pp. 40-43).
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