The big pedagogic picture of Put to the Test is that it is a reality check on what Bracey analyzes as the blind faith that has been put in standardized-test scores as far as predicting the academic success or failure of students is concerned. Bracey begins by with the assertion that tests have proliferated far beyond their ability to serve useful educational purposes and that they carry much more weight in steering educators, parents, and students toward student career paths than they should, compared to the importance of general educational objectives. But they are used to track students academically, to determine whether teachers should keep their jobs, to determine whether students should graduate (Bracey, 1998, p. 1).
Far from providing a reliable measure of either students' potential or their academic proficiency, standardized tests all too often serve the educational/pedagogical assumptions of test originators on one hand or the agendas of policy makers on the other. The fact that annual aggregate SAT scores, as well as the so-called "nation's report card," are routinely publicized by the mass media is especially instructive in this regard.
Bracey describes a certain disconnect between increased use of standardized tests (psychometrics) and the ubiquitous media visibility that they have on one hand, and a realistic grasp of "how tests can or ought to be used" in the educational setting (1998, p. 4) on the other. Old-fashioned classroom quizzes may actually be a more useful gauge of student proficiency and performance.
Another important concept in Put to the Test is that standardized tests tend to function as mechanisms of academic, career, and social "sorting." Strong and weak testers can be identified and, accordingly, tracked to (say) academic or nonacademic classes and/or curricula, and the implications for future social and income status, as well as for the American ideal of social egalitarianism, are enormous. Track...