The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing – But You Don’t Have to Be by Anya Kamenetz

6. Measuring What Matters

  • The third team is something Anya calls Team Butterfly. Here the assessment burden shifts from tests to the more subjective task of assessing projects. It’s what students do that counts and ideally, what they do resembles the work that artists, scientists, researchers, and other professionals do. While the information gathered may seem less precise, many think that multiple choice tests only give the appearance of precision. Research also shows that scoring performance tasks with an established rubric is broadly reliable from one trained evaluator to another. Students can also get involved helping each other along the way and by giving supportive feedback.
  • The final approach is known as Team Unicorn. As you can guess it is something that may not exist yet, but the idea is to combine the best of the other three teams. Anya mentions a number of game-like activities where assessment is something that happens continuously as the student deals with the challenge offered by the game. Such efforts known as dynamic testing aren’t easy, but they are underway. Many schools have also tried performance-based assessments and the results are very encouraging. In both cases, more abstract, higher-order cognitive and noncognitive skill sets like collaboration, leadership, persistence, focus, and even mindset and values are included. Learning to value negative feedback can also improve your work. Schools need to sample the emerging frontiers of assessment in order to help them develop faster. As new assessments emerge, we must avoid making them high-stakes. The most important thing is for our leaders to have the vision that assessment can help learning rather than get in the way.

7. Playing and Winning the Game

  • While opting out of state tests seems like a good idea, there may be tests that your kids should not opt out of. Theses include tests that are used for admissions for everything from kindergarten to graduate school. When that happens be sure to use the advice in this chapter to help your kids game the test. You can start with having your students read this book.
  • Start by turning the test into a contest or a game. The opponents are the people who wrote the questions. If possible, get a hold of the criteria the test writers use to create items. For reading tests don’t read the questions first. Read for the main idea, author’s purpose, and point of view. Don’t bother drilling vocabulary as it is not effective or efficient. It’s key to manage emotions to avoid test anxiety. Consider some meditation lessons. Get enough sleep, limit screen time, adopt a healthy diet, and get daily exercise. Also teach the growth mindset notion described in Carol Dweck’s book on the subject.
  • More importantly, give your kids the opportunity to learn beyond the classroom. Summer camps, family vacations, after school activities, museums and libraries, and online activities can motivate and promote learning. Finally, be sure beware of the messages you send as a parent about learning, exploring and being creative, and share this book with other parents.

Anya Kamenetz

  • Anya is NPR’s lead education blogger. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. She is the author of several books about the future of education. Generation Debt(2006), dealt with youth economics and politics; DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education (2010), investigated innovations to address the crises in cost, access, and quality in higher education. Learning, Freedom and the Web (, The Edupunks’Guide (, and the Edupunks’ Atlas ( are her free web projects about self-directed, web-enabled learning.
  • Previously, Kamenetz covered technology, innovation, sustainability and social entrepreneurship for five years as a staff writer for Fast Company magazine. She’s contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Slate, and O, the Oprah Magazine. Kamenetz was named a 2010 Game Changer in Education by the Huffington Post, received 2009 and 2010 National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, and was submitted for a Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing by the Village Voice in 2005, where she had a column called Generation Debt.
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