Book Review

Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools

by Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2007, 234 pp. with index, $24.95 softcover

Failure to consider the arguments made in Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools makes each educational leader complicit in contributing to the costs of high-stakes testing.

Co-authors Sharon Nichols and David Berliner review research regarding the strengths and weaknesses of testing in public schools, concluding that “high-stakes testing does not work.” School leaders will recognize the cover of the text — students sitting in standard attire, row after row, taking a standardized test. This is not a picture of what a 21st century student should be.

Nichols and Berliner use a social science principle, Campbell’s Law. This principle states the more any quantitative social indicator is used for decision making, the more apt it will distort and corrupt the social processes it was intended to monitor.

Any leader in today’s public schools can certainly identify with Campbell’s Law. Whatever the acronym of the state test, the stakeholders, the news media and policymakers all shine the spotlight on the scores, not on the progress and development of the whole student.

Nichols and Berliner also provide extensive research exposing cheating at the campus level, as well as states distorting data and passing rates to manipulate accountability results. Fortunately, the authors also provide alternatives to high-stakes testing. The last chapter reviews the American Educational Research Association position on the appropriate use of testing and research to endorse more authentic assessments that help us measure the development of the whole student.

Reviewed by Steve Jenkins, assistant professor of educational leadership, University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Odessa, Texas