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Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry Paperback – October 1, 2009


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Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry + The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools + Standardized Minds: The High Price Of America's Testing Culture And What We Can Do To Change It
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 098170915X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0981709154
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #633,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

". . .a humorous yet sobering glimpse at the testing arena--a must-read for policymakers and pundits enchanted by high-stakes tests."
-- Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association

"This revealing account is full of dark humor and asks many disturbing questions that will rouse debate among educators and concerned general readers."
-- Karl Helicher, September/October 2009, Foreword

"Todd Farley has a new book: It was an intriguing read..."
-- Jay Mathews, The Washington Post

 

 

About the Author

For 15 years, Todd Farley worked for many of the biggest testing companies and on some of the most important standardized education tests at the national, state, and local levels. He has written and scored tests in a variety of subject areas.

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Customer Reviews

This book is disturbingly humorous.
Joan T
I think this is a must-read book for teachers, legislators, parents, and students.
D. Grant
I'm responding by pushing this book on everyone who will listen.
ramlo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By ramlo on October 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just finished this book and while I laughed, I became more and more upset. I'm an educator who works on the other end--trying to interpret those scores. We're told to make adjustments and decisions based on them and while I've never been a believer in it, I never imagined it was this awful. I kept yelling, "Those are childrens' lives, dammit!!! Not your productivity stats!!"

It should be mandated reading for politicians and those who cry for "data-driven" reforms. I hope it will be "The Jungle" for this industry. Farley is my new hero.

I do wonder how Pearson, ETS and the DOE are responding. I'm responding by pushing this book on everyone who will listen.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Rainsberger on January 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
First of all, this is an entertaining, engaging read. It's funny and shocking. That alone makes it an enjoyable read. I bought copies for 3 other people immediately after reading it.

As for the content, it's disturbing. Though, it's disturbing in different ways to different people.

Many of us with experience in standardized testing and the for-profit education industry have no trouble believing the story line - guy (not one who would self-describe as an educator of any kind) unwittingly stumbles into a job scoring tests; guy discovers the true meaning of "there are lies, damned lies and statistics;" guy figures out the system, plays along and moves up the corporate ladder in the educational testing industry.

In the private tutoring/test prep industry, we like to think we've seen it all. But, we forget that at least we work directly with students, so there's not only a certain level of accountability but also a more direct connection with students, teachers and parents. This is the story of what happens after our students write these tests, when the tests are in the hands of people who don't have any kind of vested interest in the outcome. Nor do they necessarily have experience in teaching. As revealed in the book, teachers were often horrible scorers because they tried to read into responses, as most teachers do, trying to comprehend what the kid meant even if it wasn't what was actually written. So, those people who had the best chance at interpreting (vs. simply reading) the responses were undesirable in this process.

There are revelations from the book I'd love to share, but it's quite entertaining as written and I do feel that it's an enjoyable read without knowing too much about what's coming up.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on December 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
Over 15 years, Todd Farley worked throughout the standardized testing industry. He worked as a lowly scorer, a table leader (supervising the lowly scorers), a project manager, an item writer, some kind of administrator / analyst at a testing company headquarters, and a consultant. He worked for Educational Testing Service (ETS), Pearson, National Computer Systems, and others. He worked on the California High School Exit Exam, the SAT, the Nation's Report Card (NAEP), and myriad others. From that wealth of experience, Farley draws hilarious and cringe-worthy anecdote after another, of scorers for reading tests that don't speak English, of blatant meddling with reliability statistics, et cetera, et cetera.

I recommend the book: It was consistently entertaining, and some of the critiques are clearly important, such as the ease with which testing companies can doctor their statistics and the number of poorly qualified scorers who are grading your child's SAT.
However, several of Farley's critiques are inherent to any testing, including classroom testing. His first experience as a scorer describes the challenge of grading a question in which fourth graders had to read an article about bicycle safety and then draw a poster to highlight bicycle safety rules. Unsurprisingly, many of the posters were difficult to interpret. As any teacher will agree, this is a problem with any testing, not standardized testing.

At the end of the book, Farley recommends we trust the evaluations of classroom teachers (Mrs. White and Mr. Reyes are his examples) rather than the standardized evaluations. This, however, is of little use for a university admissions officer who must choose between a student from Mrs. White's class and a student from Mr. Reyes's class.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mike on September 30, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Making the Grades is as funny as it is persuasive in its critique of the standardized testing industry. This is a behind-the-scenes look from a guy who rose through the ranks and knows the business from the bottom to the top.

A few disclosures: Todd is my friend and colleague, and I read a draft of chapter one several years ago. I'm glad I bought the book, though, because it gets funnier and scarier as it progresses.

First, it's an important book, given the way that these tests are used for advancing students, promoting teachers, and allocating school resources. Second, the book is convincing in its argument that standardized testing is deeply flawed. Todd reveals the way the industry is alternately incompetent and deceitful, blatantly doctoring statistics in many cases. Third, it's a good story. I don't think I would have read a dry, academic treatise on standardized testing, and I have a Ph.D. in literature and taught writing at the University of Iowa. The story is entertaining and moves along briskly.

Fourth, it made me laugh. One of my favorite sections involves the scoring of an essay by students about their favorite food. Here's just a taste of the scene, which starts with Todd finding out that some of the people he's supervising are crediting "dirt" as an acceptable "favorite food":

"`Let's not be ridiculous here. I don't need other opinions on this, and I'm telling you that dirt is not acceptable as a favorite food.'

`What about grass?' one guy asked.

`Not anything you put in your mouth, people!' I said. `Your favorite food!' I was amazed."

But even with intelligent and dedicated scorers, the process seems doomed, at least as Todd describes it.
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