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Book Review                                                 Page 40

 

The Perfect Test 

An Educational Experiment that Went Terribly Wrong  

by Ron Dietel, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2011, 210 pp., $29 softcover

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In his novel, The Perfect Test: An Educational Experiment that Went Terribly Wrong, Ron Dietel has crafted an innovative and engaging work that moves the reader away from dispassionate analysis of the benefits and liabilities of high-stakes testing and compels the reader to consider the argument at a much more personal and emotional level. I was surprised by his success in moving me to feel angst and frustration with an accepted practice that in this book has real names and real consequences.

This primary character, Dr. Wilson, works in a company (Achievement Learning Systems) that develops standardized tests. One of the company’s most notable successes is the Venus test whereby students are assigned schools (read “ability tracking”) based on their scores. Students in one group of schools clearly are pointed toward college, but the other students are by extreme contrast destined to days of irrelevant curriculum and uninspired teaching. With these extreme outcomes confronting each family, the pressure to perform is intense and, for some, unbearable.

Dietel, a longtime communication director in education, artfully describes the test company in that he avoids simplistic notions of good and evil. The workers at the company clearly believe they are doing important work. But it would appear that somewhere along the way the leadership of the company seems to have moved from attending to children’s needs to running a profitable business at the expense of children.

Dietel’s writing is fluid and his narrative coherent. He introduces us to characters who have burdens many of us can appreciate, maybe ones with which we even empathize. He presents a fun mystery, full of complicated characters and situated in a school setting. While reading, we continue to negotiate our own assumptions about high-stakes assessment, about the proper role of assessment in guiding decisions about children and about the impact instructional decisions can have on our children and their families.

Reviewed by Zach Kelehear, associate dean and professor, College of Education, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

 

 

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