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Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies Hardcover – August 28, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0691149288 ISBN-10: 0691149283 Edition: 1st ed., 1st Ptg
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2014 AERA Division D Significant Contribution to Educational Measurement and Research Methodology Award, American Educational Research Association

"[T]hought-provoking. . . . He questions the anecdotal and statistical evidence that underpins many of today's education policies and reform efforts."--Library Journal

"An absolutely absorbing book. Feels like a must for politicians, reformers, educators--math educators in particular."--Cut the Knot Insights

"Renowned statistician and research scientist Howard Wainer applies the tools of his trade to answer a question that affects every American: What is wrong with our education system? . . . Wainer pokes holes in almost every aspect of conventional education policy--college rankings, admissions, aptitude tests--including a scathing critique of No Child Left Behind."--Bruce Walsh, Metro

"[Wainer's] overall message rings clear and true for much more than assessment: Policy that is formed without full analysis of the breadth of data available on a topic is policy that will fail."--Laurent Rigal, Education Gadfly

"Tired of yelling at the TV when he saw news accounts of policy changes based on flawed evidence, Wainer uses his book to present evidence to help assess 11 such trends, including the entrance-exam-optional policies in many colleges and teacher evaluations based on student performance. . . . Wainer applies more than statistical evidence to education policy; he also brings common sense to bear."--Maureen Downey, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"With its timely reminder that high stakes decisions often rely on anecdotes, laden with emotion, and that 'the plural of anecdote is not data,' Uneducated Guesses ought to be read by anyone who is concerned about the weaknesses (and wrong-headed assumptions) in current educational policies."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Tulsa World

"I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in testing, especially for college admissions or advanced placement. . . . Wainer is a gifted writer with a notable talent for analyzing and presenting data."--Bill Satzer, MAA Reviews

"The book provides a model for the development of rational public education policies, something that America needs desperately."--Robert A. Bligh, Education Review

"Educators and education policymakers interested in helping students realize their potential will benefit from reading Wainer's book because the implications reach beyond postsecondary school instruction. Teachers and administrators at all levels can follow the logic of Wainer's ideas as they seek to use evidenced-based pedagogical strategies in their classrooms."--Denise G. Brassell, Mathematics Teacher

"In sum, this book is a wonderful compilation of concrete examples from educational testing that amply illustrate the importance of evidence-based policy-making. I recommend it as an interesting, entertaining, and most worthwhile read."--TCR Books

From the Back Cover

"Uneducated Guesses is an insider's look at using test scores to make high stakes decisions in education. In this rigorous, refreshing rebuttal of conventional thinking, Wainer argues that in the world of education policy, we all would be better served by examining the evidence that demonstrates that our ideas will improve the systems we're trying to transform."--Dennis Van Roekel, president, National Education Association

"With his usual verve, flair, and disdain for pious nonsense, Howard Wainer offers a refreshingly fact-based view of a complex problem: the use of tests in educational selection and evaluation. A must-read for anyone involved in these issues and a fun read for anyone who wishes to be educated and entertained at the same time."--Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, Princeton University

"Howard Wainer's account of a selection of important scientific issues arising from educational testing is lucid, wise, and entertaining, and should be required reading for anyone interested in improving educational policy."--Stephen M. Stigler, University of Chicago

"Uneducated Guesses is a must-read for enthusiasts of evidence-based decision making and for those who make public policy decisions without consulting the evidence. The former will be sobered by a real and random world that may not match their theoretical models. The latter will be surprised to learn from past research the power and limits of public policy decisions. Wainer lays it all out in engaging and accessible prose and numbers."--Arthur E. Wise, president emeritus, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

"Uneducated Guesses is a compelling, entertaining, and provocative book that elucidates some of the subtle and important issues of educational policy. In typical Wainer fashion, the graphics nicely complement and illuminate the text and tables, and I really enjoyed the variety of examples used in the book. I learned a lot about calibration, examinee choice, the history of testing, triathlon optimization, and the health of the professional football betting industry."--Nicholas Horton, Smith College

"It is always a pleasure to read Wainer's work, and this book was certainly no exception. His carefully chosen and extremely interesting examples, his conversational tone, and his great sense of humor lead to a work that is hard to put down. Uneducated Guesses is a fabulous book, and one of great significance."--Karl W. Broman, University of Wisconsin-Madison


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st ed., 1st Ptg edition (August 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691149283
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691149288
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #746,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Wainer received his Ph. D. from Princeton University in 1968. After serving on the faculty of the University of Chicago, a period at the Bureau of Social Science Research during the Carter Administration, and 21 years as Principal Research Scientist in the Research Statistics Group at Educational Testing Service, he is now Distinguished Research Scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners and Emeritus Professor (adjunct) of Statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Wainer has a long-standing interest in the use of graphical methods for data analysis and communication, robust statistical methodology, and the development and application of generalizations of item response theory. His work on testlet response theory has combined all three. His book , Uneducated Guesses, (Princeton University Press) was published in September 2011, his 19th book, with Lawrence Hubert, A Statistical Guide for the Ethically Perplexed (Chapman & Hall), appeared in August, 2012. His 20th, Medical Illuminations (Oxford University Press) appeared in October of 2013. His latest book, ‪ Defeating Deception: Escaping the Shackles of Truthiness by learning to think like a Data Scientist will be published in 2016 by Cambridge University Press.

Dr. Wainer was elected a Fellow in the American Statistical Association in 1985 and a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association in 2009. He was awarded the Educational Testing Service's Senior Scientist Award in 1990 and selected for the Lady Davis Prize and was named the Schonbrun Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University in 1992. He received the 2006 National Council on Measurement in Education Award for Scientific Contribution to a Field of Educational Measurement for his development of Testlet Response Theory and given NCME's career achievement award in 2007, and he received the Samuel J. Messick Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from Division 5 of the American Psychological Association in 2009 and was included in Who's Who in America, 2009 - 2015 and Who's Who in the World, 2010-2015. In 2013 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Psychometric Society.

He was the editor of the Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics from 2002 until 2004 and was on the editorial board of Psychological Methods and is a former Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Association, and Applied Psychological Measurement as well as a former Treasurer of the Psychometric Society. Since 1990 he has written a popular column on data visualization in the statistics magazine Chance.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gary Echternacht on December 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I very much enjoyed reading this book. Essentially the book is a collection of Mr. Wainer's technical papers which have been rewritten and packaged for a more general audience. These all related to current movements in testing and education. One does not have to read the book sequentially chapter by chapter, but can pick from among the various chapters.

Though now retired, I spent all of my professional life in the testing business. I was lucky in that I was able to do all the major functions in the business--research, test development, statistical analysis, operations, management, and marketing--which gives me a little different perception about each of those functions. I can't say how well someone who isn't in the business will react to all of the chapters, but I will say that someone who is in the business will take away something new in reading the book. For me, that was the discussion of choice in testing. Didn't know that such ever existed or that it has had a long history.

My sense of the education world is that it is dominated by fads and politics. At least that has been the case since the late 50s-early 60s when I first remember new science curricula making their way into my high school classes. Sputnik was the spark creating that. In that sense I think it is great that people like Mr. Wainer take a step back, do some follow-up thinking and relevant data collection (sorry but I still prefer the use of the word data over the use of the word evidence) to see what is happening as we implement the movements of the times. We need more people doing the same thing.

I too follow Mr. Wainer's call for "constant experimentation, in which small changes are made to the process," and then assessing the change in light of the process outcomes.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Joanne M. Friedman on September 23, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you're wondering how we got into this educational morass, this is the book for you. If you're a teacher frustrated by the Education Initiatives that every President seems bent on launching, this is the book for you. If you're in Congress or running for President, this is definitely the book for you!

The editorial review says that statistician and renowned research scientist Wainer challenges "everything our policymakers thought they knew" about education reform. That's right to the point. "Thought they knew" is the biggest issue, and Dr. Wainer uses clear statistics and a witty, straight-forward writing style to shred the approach that most education policy has taken toward solving the huge questions that have always plagued the system. Is it truly possible to gauge a learner's future success with any certainty? Is it possible to gauge a teacher's ability based on educational outcomes in students? Can we ever hope to bridge the gap between teaching and learning? And how important is it for colleges, for instance, to be able to guess how a student will perform or for government officials to guess how much funding plays a part in learning?

Those are the questions (among others) Howard Wainer addresses. This is a hard book to put down, so be prepared. Teachers will be quoting from it for years to come.
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Format: Hardcover
Despite many claims to the contrary, creating a "fair" grading or testing system is currently impossible. There are too many variables (unknowns) and the variability in the subjects far too wide for such a word to have any meaning. The best that can be hoped for is to be "fair enough" to avoid litigation or reduce the errors to those that can be recovered from.
Wainer is a superb research scientist in the area of testing research and he sets forward many flaws in the testing and ranking strategies currently in use. Many of the intractable problems in testing for ranking are summed up in the phrase he repeatedly used, "Was Mozart a better musician than Einstein was a better physicist?" On the surface, the question is meaningless, yet that is exactly what is being done, although not to those extremes, when students are ranked on the basis of their performance in different areas. A more realistic question when it comes to college admission is along the lines of "Is Jill a better flute player than John is a quarterback?"
Furthermore, in many if not most cases, the real elephants are the ones not in the room, in other words the data that was not used in the analysis or simply is not known. Wainer does a superb job in his case studies in explaining the data that was not used or known and why it is so important. He also demonstrates some of the easier ways to game the system so that the results are more favorable. One of the simpler ways is to do something so the high achievers do not take the pre-test (lowering the score) and then do something so that the low achievers do not take the post-test (raising the score). Doing this right can yield a very impressive measured level of improvement.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By G.X. Larson on May 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting book but I felt it was a little front-loaded. The introduction, which sets the tone for the rest of the book, is an excellent call for evidence-based research and decision making. "Guesses are made, sometimes from intuition, sometimes from hope, sometimes from dogma. But too often these guess only make sense if you say them fast--for when they are tested with evidence and logic, they are found faulty." The first half of the book is a response to the recent (2008) report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling which called for making college entrance examinations optional for college applicants, replacing the SAT and ACT with achievement tests (which are different from standardized tests; an example of an achievement test is the SAT II subject tests), and the use of the PSAT cut-off score requirement for programs such as Merit Scholarships.

The first chapter discusses what might happen if the SAT were made optional. Wainer, who is a lifelong statistician, uses a so-called natural experiment to show that it is likely that students who would opt not to send their SAT scores to colleges would have significantly lower scores in the first place. This is a logical conclusion, based on Wainer's study of a cohort of 1999 Bowdoin College applicants. Moreover, Wainer shows that (based on a comparison of means) those who did not submit SAT scores had significantly lower first year GPAs than those who did submit SAT scores.

That's just one example from one chapter in this book on educational policy and psychometrics (a term I had never heard before).
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