New Research, Good Reads

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner, November 2013

Valuable new resources to support the test reform movement include Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools; Rafe Esquith’s Real Talk for Real Teachers; The Effect of High School Exit Exams on Graduation, Employment, Wages and Incarceration; and Hugo Aboite’s thorough analysis of testing in Mexico, The Measure of a Nation.

Diane Ravitch’s follow-up to her best-selling Death and Life of the Great American School System is a breakthrough book for the test reform movement. Reign of Error has received a raft of positive reviews. These include Jonathan Kozol in the New York Times. Kozol wrote, “Those…who have grown increasingly alarmed at seeing public education bartered off piece by piece, and seeing schools and teachers thrown into a state of siege, will be grateful for this cri de coeur — a fearless book, a manifesto and a call to battle.” Writing in in the New York Review of Books, Andrew Delbanco called her “arguably our leading historian of primary and secondary education.” With high-profile interviews on NPR, The Daily Show, MSNBC and many other outlets, Ravitch and her message have moved into the mainstream just as national resistance to high-stakes testing is reaching an all-time high (see article, this issue). For more on the book see Ravitch’s blog, which features summaries of each review as it appears.

Rafe Esquith’s aptly titled new book, Real Talk for Real Teachers, is exceptional for its wisdom, clarity and plain-spokenness. The author, a veteran 5th grade teacher in a Los Angeles public school, shares his hard-won wisdom about engaging and inspiring students with Shakespeare as well as rock and roll and other things not prioritized by the Common Core. He sees himself as a buffer, protecting his students from damaging education policies. This book is a powerful indictment of test-obsessed education policies. As he puts it, “we’ve gone too far. The reasonable desire to hold students and teachers accountable for what is being learned in school has snowballed into an avalanche of examinations that are hurting children and depriving them of a meaningful education.” He adds, “Republicans and Democrats have bought into a system so outrageously flawed that any scientist would throw out its data immediately as unreliable.”

A new study found a significant increase in incarceration rates for students who fail high-stakes exit exams. The Effect of High School Exit Exams on Graduation, Employment, Wages and Incarceration shows that students who fail these exams were more than 12 percent more likely to face incarceration than students who pass. These states also had lower graduation rates than states without these exams. Co-author Kevin Lang noted that many thought high-stakes testing would help U.S. students catch up and surpass foreign competitors. Yet, the evidence shows few positive effects, such as on employment or wages, and one major adverse effect: Graduation tests raise the average state incarceration rate” by 12.5%, from 1.6% of the graduating cohort to 1.8%. That would translate across the states with exit tests to an additional 4500 young people in prison (disproportionately males of color). “I certainly think all of us should be concerned if these sorts of tests increase the incarceration rate,” Lang said. “That’s certainly not good for the society. And it’s not good for the individuals who are affected.” Lang, a Boston University economics professor and former school committee member, became interested in the consequences of high-stakes testing when parents in his town of Brookline raised concerns about Massachusetts’ high-stakes MCAS exams. He also contributed to the 2011 National Research Council report that found high-stakes testing yielded little learning progress but caused significant harm.

Professor Hugo Aboites, a longtime FairTest colleague and ally, has written The Measure of a Nation. This is a comprehensive study of standardized educational testing in Mexico, with reference to Latin America and the U.S. Aboites has been deeply involved in successful battles against testing in Mexico. These battles continue, including refusals by teachers in some states to administer national exams, coupled with efforts to develop culturally appropriate assessments for indigenous children. The book has become an education best-seller in Mexico. The Measure of a Nation: The First Years of Evaluation in México; A History of Power, Resistance and Alternative. (In Spanish) 984 pages.

  • To obtain a copy, send a check for $35 to FairTest, Box 300204, Jamaica Plain, MA, with your full mailing address and email.