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Books in Translation

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March 2010 | Volume 67 | Number 6
Reading to Learn Pages 48-52

Special Topic / Why We Should Stop Bashing State Tests

Grant Wiggins

An item-by-item look at state test results reveals that students lack higher-level reading and thinking skills.

It is, of course, a common lament: "Oh, those standardized tests! If it weren't for them …" But if you look closely at the released test items and student performance data for states that provide such information, your opinion may change. Mine did. Standardized tests can give us surprisingly valuable and counterintuitive insights into what our students are not learning.

The myth is that the tests demand and reward low-level "coverage." The results say otherwise. Consider this item from the 2008 Massachusetts 10th grade English test, which involves the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song dear to me as a child of the '60s and as a musician. The student sees all the lyrics of the song, and then responds to this question: Based on "The Times They Are A-Changin'," why does the speaker most likely single out "senators, congressmen" and "mothers and fathers"? Here are the four choices:

  1. They understand the problems of society.
  2. They represent an outdated set of values.
  3. They are the most open to change.
  4. They are role models for the speaker.


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