The Dominance of High-Stakes Testing and the Politics of SchoolingAmanda Walker Johnson
In the past twenty years, the number of educational tests with high-stakes consequences—such as promotion to the next grade level or graduating from high school—has increased. At the same time, the difficulty of the tests has also increased. In Texas, a Latina state legislator introduced and lobbied for a bill that would take such factors as teacher recommendations, portfolios of student work, and grades into account for the students—usually students of color—who failed such tests. The bill was defeated.
Using several types of ethnographic study (personal interviews, observations of the Legislature in action, news broadcasts, public documents from the Legislature and Texas Education Agency), Amanda Walker Johnson observed the struggle for the bill’s passage. Through recounting this experience, Objectifying Measures explores the relationship between the cultural production of scientific knowledge (of statistics in particular) and the often intuitive resistance to objectification of those adversely affected by the power of policies underwritten as “scientific.”
"The novelty of Objectifying Measures is the clarity with which an analysis of statistical discourse is mapped out to show its complex relationship to inequality. Johnson offers a reader-friendly ethnography that demands attention... Her analysis of assumptions and biases which frame and inform standardized testing as a method of defining and measuring failure/progress is timely and important. Highly recommended!" —Katya Gibel Mevorach, Associate Professor, Anthropology Department & American Studies Concentration at Grinnell College
"(C)ompelling... the exhaustive bibliography covering both Texas educational politics and supporting Johnson's political frame are as valuable as the story." —Choice
"The strength of this book is in Johnson’s detailed discussion of how the discourse around testing marginalizes students of color, as well as the thorough account of the political ‘players,’ including the for-profit testing companies and conservatives who support the privatization of schooling.… Objectifying Measures is a thought-provoking book which calls important attention to the subjectivity of the tests that are intended to provide an objective measurement of student learning, as well as the underlying politics of high-stakes testing. Her attention to these issues comes at a critical time given the upcoming reauthorization of NCLB." —Teachers College Record
"This is a dense and ambitious work. The author frames her research at the nexus of activist anthropology, autoethnography, feminist critique, and Critical Race Theory...This complex framing is powerful and unique.... Johnson’s 'anthropological view of the culture of measurement that places such emphasis on test results, specifically on the production of testing statistics,' is an insightful critique of the discourse around statistics and educational inequality." —Anthropology and Education Quarterly
"(A)n interesting critical approach to the politics of American education that consciously takes the risky choice of using social science as a tool for political activism." —Contemporary Sociology