Book Alert: Unlearned Lessons

UnlLTesting impresario W. James Popham has penned a volume, Unlearned Lessons: Six Stumbling Blocks to Our Schools’ Success, that mixes anecdote, personal experience, and scholarly analysis to ask why American schooling has had such a terrible time designing, adopting, or employing good assessment. Popham provides a pithy and highly readable treatment of key challenges in standards, testing, and assessment, one that is particularly timely as governors and influential supporters move to embrace some version of common standards (with hundreds of millions in federal dollars pledged to finance the ensuing tests). Popham argues that assessment in the United States has suffered from six crucial, recurring problems: too many curricular targets; the underutilization of classroom assessment; preoccupation with instructional process; the dearth of “affective” assessments, i.e., those focused on attitudes, interests, and values; instructionally insensitive accountability tests; and the reality that educators “know almost nothing about educational assessment.” Readers may take issue with some of Popham’s critiques and assertions, or the shape of his recommended remedy, which is explained in an enthusiastic treatment of Wyoming’s current assessment and accountability system. Even skeptics, however,would benefit from Popham’s insights regarding how and why high-quality assessment is a matter of politics, policy, and practice, as well as technical expertise.

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