In "The Big Sort: Our Problematic Obsession in American Education With Ranking People," Dana Goldstein reviews the long, strange history of testing and education science, from phrenology to today’s value-added measurement. In reporting her recent book, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, Goldstein saw firsthand the sometimes absurd results of a culture obsessed with test-based ranking and sorting. “I witnessed first graders in Colorado who took a pencil-and-paper test in arts class,” she says. “A lot of the kids actually couldn’t read.” It’s not that testing in itself is bad, says Goldstein, a staff writer at the Marshall Project: “Classroom-level short term quizzes and short writing assignments, those are the sorts of tests that seem to drive gains for kids.” The year-end standardized tests that are used primarily to judge the performance of teachers? Not so much.
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