The Damage of Testing: Reviews

K-12 Testing

Two recent books on the consequences of test-based school reform and the need to oppose such schemes complement each other nicely. One is a short outline focusing on policy, the other a detailed catalog of damage. Taken together, they present strong evidence and arguments to be used in campaigns to take public education back from the “testocracy.”

The Rights of All Our Children: A Plea for Action, by Evans Clinchy, is a brief policy analysis of the ways high-stakes testing and privatization damage education and democracy, and a call for a new educational civil rights movement. Rooting himself in the Brown desegregation decision and the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Clinchy maintains that every child is entitled to a “fully and equally funded desegregated education” that “must be directed to the full development of each child’s human personality.” A chapter on testing with a few well-selected examples spells out how the tests narrow and dumb down curriculum and instruction at the same time attaching high stakes to exam results damages the lives of students. Clinchy argues for equity, diversity and parental choice within a public school system and recommends the authentic assessment proposal developed by the Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education. He concludes with a few pages of action proposals.

Susan Ohanian’s What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? is, as Alfie Kohn states in his foreword, “defiantly anecdotal.” But what anecdotes! The book contains a sweeping array of eloquently presented examples of standards gone overboard, such as William Bennett insisting that second graders know about the Code of Hammurabi. Ohanian presents dumb test questions, examples of damaging policy contradictions (“California ranks 43rd in the nation on spending on public education, it ranks first on spending for prisons.”) Mostly, she tells human stories of what the testing mania has done to children, teachers, families and schools. Ohanian includes evidence from research studies. The consequences are, she shows, dehumanizing and dangerous to children. Along the way, and particularly in her last chapter, “Mad as Hell and Doing Something About It,” she presents stories of resistance, largely from the parents and teachers who are part of FairTest’s Assessment Reform Network.

• Clinchy’s book is published by Heinemann, ($13.50, paper., 90pages)

• Ohanian is published by McGraw-Hill ($16.95, paper., 263 pages)