Book Review

Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing

Reviewed by William J. Leary,
Professor and Director of Doctoral Program, Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.


Accountability and the standards movement are on the front burner of political, as well as educational agendas in national policy discussions today. Grant P. Wiggins, president and director of programs for the Center on Learning, Assessment and School Structure in Pennington, N.J., has been at the forefront of assessment and school reform for more than a decade.

His knowledge and experience with these issues is apparent in Assessing Student Performance, a powerful and well-written work, which begins by raising a fundamental question: "What is assessment and how does testing differ from it?"

Standards are contextual and determined within a "context of particular purpose or effect," he writes. Standards should be fixed, but vary according to an individual's goals and purpose. As Theodore Sizer says, what matters is not "which standards, [but rather] whose standards."

Wiggins does support assessment for students, however. He designs an Assessment Bill of Rights for students, which advocates minimal secrecy in tests and grades; forms of testing that allow students timely opportunities to explain their answers; scoring and grading opportunities that provide feedback; and incentives for students to improve their performance among other things.

Those familiar with Wiggins' writing will recognize in this book a clarity of expression and definitive viewpoints (with which the reader may agree or disagree). But you will know more about assessment than you did before you examined this excellent book.

(Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing, by Grant P. Wiggins, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, Calif. 94104-1342, 1999, 316 pp. including index, $21.95, softcover)