Daniel Koretz on Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us

Daniel Koretz:

Well, I wrote the book for two reasons.  One is that testing has become enormously important not just in education but in public debate in general.  I have, every time, for instance, there are international comparisons, newspapers put it on front page.  But also because there is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding of testing and there really wasn’t a straightforward way for people to learn about it.  So I had for years, students coming back [and they’re] usually annoyed, sometimes furious about things they heard out in the real world about testing.  And they kept saying, “You have to write a book.  You have to write a book.”  The people need to know about testing, policy makers, educators, concerned citizens are not going to slug through 300-page text full of equations.  They’re not, just not going to do it.  So somebody has to write an accessible but thorough book.  So I, finally, after several of them got furious at a speech given by Rod Paige, I said, “All right, I’ll do it.”  And so what I did is I wrote, really, three separate things and combine them into a book.  One part is just a non-technical explanation of the key concepts that you need to understand to argue sensibly about testing.  You need to know what bias really is.  You need to know what adverse impact is.  You need to know what reliability is.  So there’s a chunk of the book that simply explains that in concrete terms.  There’s a small part of the book that asks what test scores, at least the ones we can trust, really tell us about American kids because there is a widespread misinterpretation of things like the national assessment or international comparisons.  In the back end of the book, which is what, and surprisingly, has gotten the most attention, applies the first part, the principles to what I considered to be pressing, controversial issues like high [stakes] testing and testing of kids with disabilities or limited proficiency in English.  Surprisingly, I expected that the book would be trashed by educational conservatives because it does say really unkind things about test based accountability as we currently do it and about No Child Left Behind, but that hasn’t been the case.  I think that maybe a sign… In fact, some educational conservatives have praised the book.  I think what’s happened is that there is a growing uneasiness with what we’ve done over the last eight years or so, 7 years.  While people don’t agree on what we should do differently, there’s, I think, a growing awareness that we’ve got to change something.  But my hope is that the book will just contribute in some small way to a more intelligent debate about testing and the people who want to know how to participate in that argument and those arguments will have a tool that will let them do that. 

Daniel Koretz sought to disabuse us of the myths surrounding testing and foster public debate about purpose in education.

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