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Book Review: Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz

January 16, 2022

Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz. Published by Harvard University Press. 2008

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2021 was to read more books and I intend to continue that into 2022. I will be reviewing those books that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased.

Daniel Koretz is the rarest of treasures: a Professor of Education who is an expert on a genuine body of knowledge. His speciality is testing, and he taught classes at Harvard on assessment. This is an area where it is possible to make and research empirical claims, and this is a balanced and well informed book exploring the utility and the limits of testing in education.

This is a good introduction to the key concepts and the technical language of testing. It is an important read at this time. These days schools seem particularly keen to design their own tests. Additionally, following the cancellation of exams in the last two years, much is claimed about both the value of tests and the capacity of schools to accurately and objectively assess their pupils. Test design and the interpretation of test results is not a trivial matter, and anyone claiming to be able to do them well just from their knowledge of teaching should be treated sceptically.

If you are expecting this book to give simple answers, it won’t. It will tell you that tests have an important role in assessment and cannot easily be replaced by other means of assessment. However, it will also tell you tests have important limitations, and that it is easy to make incorrect inferences from them. There is a body of knowledge out there that enables us to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of testing in a rational manner, and this book is a great introduction to that.

Terms such as “error”, “validity”, “reliability” and “bias” are thrown around in education debate about tests, often by people who have little understanding of what they mean in the context of testing. Rather than resolving all arguments, this book is a tool for having better arguments.

Its final chapter does, however spell out where tests are likely to be most useful, and in how the limitations of testing can be addressed. This is definitely worth a read before designing another assessment, or weighing into any more debates about the value of exams.

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