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In response to public demand, federal legislation now requires testing of most students in the United States in reading and mathematics in grades three through eight. Many educators, parents, and policymakers who have paid little attention to testing policy issues in the past need to have better information on the topic than has generally been available. Kill the Messenger, now in paperback, fills this gap.
This is perhaps the most thorough and authoritative work in defense of educational testing ever written. Phelps points out that much research conducted by education insiders on the topic is based on ideological preference or profound self-interest. It is not surprising that they arrive at emphatically anti-testing conclusions. Much, if not most, of this hostile research is passed on to the public by journalists as if it were neutral, objective, and independent. Kill the Messenger explains and refutes many of the common criticisms of testing; describes testing opponents' strategies, through case studies of Texas and the SAT; illustrates the profound media bias against testing; acknowledges testing's limitations, and suggests how it can be improved; and finally, outlines the consequences of losing the "war on standardized testing."
This is an embattled book. Incensed by the partisan tactics of anti-testing groups, Phelps deliberately goes to great lengths to expound and analyse the differing points of view, helped by scrupulous and scholarly documentation and a robustly empirical approach. Fairness and impartiality, he reasons, will redound to his benefit, while the tactics of suppression, smear and distortion will do his enemies no good at all. I was particularly impressed by his own researches (Chapter 6) into media bias, exposing the capture of the liberal (illiberal) media yet again, with whose anti-IQ mindset we are already drearily familiar.
Perhaps Phelps need not worry. "About things on which the public thinks long it commonly attains to think right," wrote Samuel Johnson (1779-1781). The guardians of democracy may have proved supine, but commonsense continues to fortify the apparently unquenchable preference of the general public for the information that tests give.
Despite the importance of testing, there is an increasing tendency to blame the test if you don’t like the results. In other words, it is often easier to kill the messenger than fix the underlying problem revealed by the test. However, if our nation is truly going to close the achievement gap as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, we need to hear – not kill – the messenger.
Kill the Messenger reminds us that testing is primarily about information. Without the data provided by fair, reliable, and valid tests we – students, parents, teachers, policy makers, and researchers – would lack the ability to determine whether our schools and children are making the grade.
Phelps argues that standardized tests are the best measures we have of student performance. Usually, they do it more reliably, more accurately, more objectively, and less expensively than the alternatives. Why be opposed to information? The reason is usually this: because one does not want the results known.
—Executive Director, Assn. of American Publishers - School Division
|List of Tables|
|List of Figures|
|Reveille - Prelude to Battle (Introduction)||1|
|1||The Battlefield (Testing Systems and Testing Interests)||9|
|2||Attack Strategies and Tactics||35|
|3||Campaigns: The Big, Bad SAT||87|
|4||Campaigns: Texas, the Early Years||105|
|5||Campaigns: Texas, the Presidential Election Year 2000||121|
|6||War Correspondence (Media Coverage of Testing)||147|
|7||The Fruits of Victory (Benefits of Testing)||215|
|8||The Spoils of War (Valid Concerns about Testing)||265|
|9||The Agony of Defeat (The Consequences of Losing the War: The Alternatives to Standardized Testing)||277|
|App||An Anti-Testing Vocabulary||287|