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

4.6 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 098170915X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0981709154
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #888,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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I really wanted to like this book. I am very opposed to standardized testing with the possible exception of once annual testing solely for the purpose of assessing students' strengths and weaknesses to meet their needs (and I have my doubts about even that use). I have watched in shock and horror as standardized testing has grown to consume the curriculum, decide students' promotions and graduations and ruin teachers' careers on the basis of their students' scores. I also object to the tests due to the impact on students' social and emotional needs because very often self-worth becomes tied up with students' test scores and it almost seems like children are valued as numbers on a test rather than living, feeling, unique budding human beings. And as if that weren't enough, research shows that standardized tests measure only the thinnest and least important slice of actual learning while at the same time drastically reducing students' interest and enthusiasm for learning.

I had hoped that this book would give me further ammunition against standardized testing on the basis that the tests aren't even valid or reliable on their own terms. And this book does do that to some extent. Farley shows us repeatedly how scores were routinely changed to match across scorers and increase reliability numbers. He shows us how the rubrics used to score student answers were cobbled together by groups of educators manipulated by testing industry representatives. He shows us that many of the people scoring student answers were minimally, if at all qualified - many would be unemployable in nearly any other industry, especially any position calling for judgment or decision making ability.
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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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