Worth Reading

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - January 2008

Short reviews of books that are worth your time and consideration. These reviews focus on how the books address testing and assessment.

  • English Learners in American Classrooms
  • Rescuing the Public Schools: What It Will Take to Leave No Child Behind
  • Letters to the Next President
  • Reading Against Democracy: The Broken Promises of Reading Instruction
  • Democratic Schools

English Learners in American Classrooms, by James Crawford and Stephen Krashen, poses and answers 101 questions about the best way to teach English language learners. Questions 69-74 focus on "Assessment and Accountability," explaining how No Child Left Behind is harmful to English Language Learners (ELLs) and why accommodations are insufficient. The authors propose better ways to address assessment and accountability. Answers to other questions also contribute to understanding assessment of ELLs. This very accessible book is also timely given both the pending reauthorization of NCLB and the intensity of the public debate over immigration. (Scholastic, 2007)

Progressive educators leveled many criticisms against typical public education programs long before high-stakes testing and NLCB intensified the worst aspects of that schooling. In Rescuing the Public Schools, Evans Clinchy returns to those critiques, drawing lessons learned from progressive education programs. He uses these to propose "reinventing the system" in a way that would overturn test-centric classrooms and replace the often stultifying practices of conventional education with schools that foster more comprehensive, richer forms of human development. How to best assess students is an important part of his discussion. (Teachers College Press, 2007)

• Readers interested in this book might also peruse Rona Wilensky's essay "High Schools Have Got It Bad for Higher Ed – And That Ain't Good" in the December 2007 Phi Delta Kappan.

Letters to the Next President: What We Can Do About the Real Crisis in Public Education has been updated and re-issued for the 2008 election. Editor Carl Glickman added the FairTest-initiated Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (now signed by 141 national organizations). FairTest Board of Directors members Deborah Meier, Sophie Sa and the late Asa Hilliard have contributions, among dozens of other short letters. Together, they make clear that high-stakes testing is not going to solve any of the real problems facing the nation's schools. (Teachers College Press, 2007)

Reading Against Democracy: The Broken Promises of Reading Instruction poses the perhaps radical idea that reading can and should enhance democracy. Patrick Shannon, in this revised edition of his 1989 book, argues that current reading instruction practices, tightly bound to standardized testing, work to undermine democracy by ensuring students don't learn to read and think well. He explores the interconnected roles of corporations and government over the past century in promoting a pseudo-science of reading that particularly disempowers low-income and minority-group youths, as well as their teachers. He concludes by calling on readers to join the struggle to shift the teaching of reading toward models he outlines in his final chapter. (Heinemann, 2007)

Democratic Schools: Lessons in Powerful Education, edited by Michael Apple and James Beane, updates previous case studies of five schools that explicitly addressed democracy as central to their mission. High-stakes testing and then NCLB have not been kind to these educationally successful endeavors that incorporated high quality assessment practices. Some are now out of business (including Central Park East Secondary School) while others (such as La Escuela Fratney in Milwaukee) continue, often winning some victories. After presenting updated information on each school, the authors draw significant pedagogical and political lessons. (Heinemann, 2007)