I reviewed Daniel Koretz’s book, “The Testing Charade” in the current issue of The New Republic.

The review is behind a paywall, but you can get a free 30-day pass or a one-year digital subscription for $10 for the year. When it comes out from the paywall in a couple of weeks, I will post it in full.

The review starts like this:

“In 1979, the psychologist Donald Campbell proposed an axiom. “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making,” he wrote, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” He also wrote: “Achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.”

“Put simply, when the measure becomes the goal, and when people are punished or rewarded for meeting or not meeting the goal, the measure is corrupted. As Richard Rothstein has shown in his superb monograph, “Holding Accountability to Account,” tying high stakes to measurable goals affects behavior in negative ways in every field, not just education. Judge heart surgeons by the mortality rate of their patients, and they will turn away risky patients. The classic (and probably apocryphal) illustrations of Campbell’s law come from the Soviet Union. When workers were told that they must produce as many nails as possible, they produced vast quantities of tiny and useless nails. When told they would be evaluated by the weight of the nails, they produced enormous and useless nails. The lesson of Campbell’s law: Do not attach high stakes to evaluations, or both the measure and the outcome will become fraudulent.

“For the last 16 years, American education has been trapped, stifled, strangled by standardized testing. Or, to be more precise, by federal and state legislators’ obsession with standardized testing. The pressure to raise test scores has produced predictable corruption: Test scores were inflated by test preparation focused on what was likely to be on the test. Some administrators gamed the system by excluding low-scoring students from the tested population; some teachers and administrators cheated; some schools dropped other subjects so that more time could be devoted to the tested subjects.

“In his new book, Daniel Koretz, an eminent testing expert at Harvard University, has skillfully dissected the multiple negative consequences of the education reforms of the 2000s, most of them unintended. His title, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, sums up his conclusion that the reform movement failed badly because of its devotion to high-stakes testing as the infallible measure of educational quality.

“Koretz says the results of the testing inflated scores and were not valid. But reformers did not withdraw their support for testing even when the harm it inflicted on children and public schools became evident. Some were ignorant of the evidence of failure; others believed tests provided valuable information, despite the corruption of the data by high stakes. Since federal law required states to label schools with low scores as failing, and since those schools were often turned into charter schools, a whole industry benefited from this system—even though the same measures labeled many charters as failing, too. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015, still requires that every child be tested every year—a practice unknown in any high-performing nation.

“Legislators’ and policymakers’ obsession with testing has been locked into place since January 8, 2002, when President George W. Bush signed into law his signature domestic legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act. Before NCLB, every state had its own tests and its own accountability measures, but none was as harsh, punitive, and unrealistic as NCLB. None required every school to reach 100 percent proficiency or face mass firings or closure or both.”