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Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry
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Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  139 ratings  ·  35 reviews
The No Child Left Behind Act uses the phrase scientifically-based research more than 100 times when discussing standardized testing, but Making the Grades raises serious questions about the validity of many large-scale assessments simply by describing one man's career in the industry. This first-hand account of life in the testing business is alternately edifying and hilar ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers (first published 2009)
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Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
Farley's book purports to explore the seamy underbelly of the US standardized testing industry--to expose the lies, corruption, and just general scandalous behavior that pervades and supports it, and that apparently nobody has known about before now. But as Lynch proved in Blue Velvet, and as DFW further proved in "Authority and American Usage," everything has a seamy underbelly, and therein lies one of my many issues with the book: its assumption that your average book-reading American thinks t ...more
Julia Shay
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am giving this entertaining, autobiographical work a solid 5. Perhaps it's because I read this book just as I was found out that half of my salary was about to be based on standardized test scores. Perhaps it's that I found the writing both droll and eye-opening. Either way, I am hoping that a high score encourages more readers to take an interest in this topic. After years in the industry, the author rightly warns us that in using standardized test scores to decide what to pay teachers and ma ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was fascinating! A tell-all book about the author's time in the standardized testing industry. He started as a scorer, grading student responses to open-ended prompts and questions. Despite a hapless start, he moved up the ranks and ultimately ended up writing testing passages and questions, helping to create the scoring rubrics, training other scoring teams, and as an industry consultant. He worked institutions we've all heard of such as Pearson and ETS and turns on them in this biting and ...more
Jun 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: perhaps my worst enemy
"Misadventures" is a spot-on descriptor for this book. I'm infinitely sorry that I wasted the little time it took me to read this. I'm not unfamiliar with the testing industry, but this is more a rant about Todd Farley's work for his former employer (and he makes it quite clear which company he worked for) than anything else. Apparently others who read this book found it to be some kind of revelation of the shady goings-on within the industry and as evidence that standardized testing is, well, b ...more
Oct 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: parents
Eye-opening. This book is an entertaining, anecdotal look at the scoring and writing of "open ended" questions used in tests administrated at schools throughout the country. I enjoyed the writing style quite a lot...biting sarcasm. In the end the author convinced me (confirmation bias perhaps) that standardized testing is not the panacea that some believe and furthermore that they are being used in ways that they were never meant to be used.

If you have children in public schools and are at all
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Having worked as a temporary standardized test scorer in exactly the sort of facilities Todd Farley discusses in this book, I was not exactly shocked or surprised by most of the revelations. Nevertheless, this was an entertaining read from start to finish. If you've ever taken a standardized test and wondered who's on the other end, or if you have children in schools that seem to be placing far too much emphasis on test scores, this is a must-read.
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
I consider it a must-read for teachers, administrators, and POLITICIANS.
Mary Hollowell
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is very frank, very funny, and very informative. Kudos to Todd Farley for telling the truth about the standardized essay grading industry. I was part of this big business, myself, for awhile.

Farley exposes the industry from the inside out. He rose from a basic scorer to a supervisor to an Educational Testing Service (ETS) employee to a contractor, designing standardized essay questions and multiple choice items for astronomical sums. He jokes that contracting was his "own private Halli
Chelsea Courtois
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you're ever curious to know why we shouldn't use the results of standardized tests to assess the success of teachers, students,schools and the like, read this book. As a teacher who has experienced grading student responses for "standardized assessments", Farley's presentations of countless discussions about validity of students' responses takes me back to endless conversations I've had with my colleagues. Farley has great voice, conviction, and humor. Despite the fact that this book should c ...more
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Based (apparently) on more than a decade of direct personal experience, and therefore more anecdotal than analytical, this sometimes humorous and sometimes cringe-worthy narrative should be enough to toss "standardized" testing as a mechanism for making any kind of serious education decisions. The patterns of absurd should give pause even those that think standardized testing is a good idea; the actual process of actual testing and grading shows that the results are anything but what the adheren ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
If you're only ever going to read one book about standardized testing, it should be Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us which talks about how even the best of standardized testing has limited applications: what it can and cannot do, and how to make it do those things. Particularly in countries like Canada where tests are still graded by real teachers.

This book, on the other hand, is a scathing review of the for-profit standardized testing industry (in the US; though applicable
Oct 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
I made it halfway before giving up for a number of reasons both stylistic and substantive. There is a case to be made against the testing industry and of our reliance on its results in educational policy and decision-making, but this is not the book to make that case nor is Todd Farley the person to make it. I say this as a self-described progressive educator aligned generally with the supposed thesis of this book: don't waste your time on this one.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
4.5* Well-written and very interesting look into the "educational" system. A friend of a friend has confirmed that the experiences are truthful and the many examples of rubric-bending responses sound absolutely accurate.
Kelly Junno
How ironic would it be to give this book a rating? Or if goodreads had a rating rubric that we could follow to give this book a holistic score? Should I weight tone and narrative flow equally with pertinent information and scholarly research? What if my score is too far off from the average rating? Haha, I could go on, but it would really only be meaningful to those who have read the book. So onto my own opinion (although that seems to be all those scores are anyway).

So I have to admit that I d
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, education
An amusingly written narrative of a maddening issue. Even if only 50% of this is true (and I have no reason to believe it isn't), it still completely changes how I view standardized testing. No wonder we get some of the crazy scores we see reported!
Dec 07, 2015 rated it liked it
371.262 FAR

My summary: It is author's 15 years career (Oct 1994 - March 2008) in standardized test industry in NCS (national Computer System). It shows what truly happened in scoring of test. It questions the validity, accuracy, usefulnesses of test score and rubrics to assess them. Yes, multiple choices would escape falseness, guarantee 100% objectiveness, not like open-ended questions, either reading or writing. But both still suffer emphasis on bias and sensitivity, which means studying examp
Mar 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: teachers, parents, "educators"
Shelves: nonfiction
If nothing else, it's a page-turner.

Here's the basic premise: A guy, short on cash and too unmotivated (lazy?) to find a proper job decides to work as a temporary scorer for a standardized testing company. He complains for 272 pages about how the other scorers are dim, unfit to score high-stakes state exams, blah, blah, blah, while also assuming that he is somehow different than the rest of the scorers--above it all. He says, "Look! That woman doesn't speak English! She's unfit to score an Engli
Jul 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
"I don't believe the results of standardized testing because most of the major players in the industry are for-profit enterprises that -- even if they do have the word EDUCATION in their names -- are pretty clearly in the business as much to make big bucks as to make good tests." I liked a lot of Farley's book because I have such a connection to the setting -- Iowa City! I passed the big standardized testing center several times a week, and never really thought much about what went on inside the ...more
Jim Duncan
Aug 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
While not a "professional scorer", I used an entirely subjective scoring rubric to give this book 4 stars. I wanted to give it 5 stars but the psychometricians have pointed out that I have given out too many 5 star reviews recently.

Saw the author interviewed by John Oliver for his segment on standardized testing.

When I heard about the SAT's essay section, I wondered how they scored them. I find the idea of temporary employees working for a minimum wage while reading and scoring thousands upon
Apr 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
If you've ever wondered about the validity of national standardized test scores of open-ended questions, the author will give you the benefit of his years in the field. His behind-the-scenes experiences, from beginning scorer to trainer, question-writer, and moderator for groups developing scoring rubrics, give a depressing picture of scores assigned more for consistency with norms than accuracy, overworked and undertrained scorers trying to follow ambiguous rubrics, and the occasional fiddling ...more
The author details how and why he is a lazy, unmotivated, and cheating employee. The book is filled with his ego about how he's "above" working in standardised testing because he's a genius and everyone else is an incompetent idiot.

Sure, some of the anecdotes are entertaining, but I expected this book would supplement anecdotes with research. I didn't expect a chronological tale of the author receiving high pay for little effort, and in the end, showing no remorse or shame.

The author was quoted
Jan 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Granted, anecdotes are not always the best evidence, but Farley's experiences in the standardized testing business are a sobering reminder that mass grading of tests has its pitfalls. For instance, if an evaluator doesn't understand the difference between our planet rotating on its axis and Earth rotating around the sun, he or she might have a problem judging whether a fourth grader knows the difference.

Great fodder for those who don't believe standardized testing is the best measure of the educ
May 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Very eye opening. I worked the day shift in the Tucson, AZ scoring center he describes, and it was every bit as strange as he says. There were some really odd people there. Also it seemed like they kept changing the grading rules on us. I remember thinking I was making great money at the time--like $10 an hour, geez. I also met my worst boyfriend ever at that job! (He later told me that he was going to the bathroom and doing speed to keep his scoring stats up.) So yeah, weirdos and losers (like ...more
Robin Tzucker
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was incredibly depressing. Well written, funny anecdotes, but depressing all the same. This book should be required reading for every superintendent of public instruction, every legislator, every parent, and anyone who is involved in making decisions about testing our kids. Teachers already know all this.....there wasn't anything in the book that was horribly surprising but more that it confirmed what we all suspect.

Jul 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
A real eye-opener for those of us who didn't have to be students at the mercy of the American standardized testing industry. The book was a little repetitive - lots of anecdotes about the author's experiences within the industry - but not countered quite enough by information about the for-profit industry and the issues surrounding it's increasing power on the lives of American school children.
Andy Ross
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a very troubling book about how standardized testing is, not to put too fine a point on it, a fraud. The author worked in the industry for 10 years and saw how the scores were manipulated on a consistent basis. In spite of the deep seriousness of the subject, the author had an amazing comic style. I mean fall of bed laughing. One of the funniest books I have ever read.
Jul 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
A must read!!! I learned so much about standardized testing and the educational industry. As he tells the story of his ascent in corporate testing he shows you how completely screwed up the system is.
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a must read for anyone who thinks writing tests can be graded "objectively" and with any sort of validity. Having scored in various settings, I can confirm the type of things Farley describes.
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
good lord. everybody should read this in order to understand exactly who is scoring all of the standardized tests kids in the united states take, from NAEP to SATS. (plus, it is darkly comedic, which i think you'd need to be in order to survive as a cognizant person in the industry.)
Apr 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was an eye opener for me. I am surprised it didn't get more press when it was published because it certainly raises more than a few questions about the validity of standardized testing.
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“If I had to take any standardized test today that was important to my future and would be assessed by the scoring processes I have long been a part of, I promise you I would protest, I would fight, I would sue, I would go on a hunger strike or march on Washington ... but I would never allow that massive and ridiculous business to have any say in my future without battling it to the bitter, bitter end.
Do what you want, America, but at least you have been warned.”
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