You are here

The ABCs of Educational Testing

The ABCs of Educational Testing
Demystifying the Tools That Shape Our Schools

Additional resources:

November 2016 | 176 pages | Corwin

Amplify your assessment literacy.

Formative, data-driven, high-stakes—we all know the buzzwords surrounding educational testing. But often times we shelve our understanding of these terms because we think they are overwhelmingly complex. After all, isn’t that why we have “experts” crafting assessments?

Those who care about our schools and students—teachers, administrators, policymakers, parents, citizens—will find The ABCs of Educational Testing the first accessible explanation of how and why having a fundamental understanding of educational testing is so important. Inappropriate tests are currently leading to harmful decision-making, and this book gives you everything you need to know to change that, including

  • The purposes of tests
  • The difference between and importance of reliability and validity
  • How to build tests with fairness
  • The importance of students’ affect

Using a nontechnical and conversational approach, this book offers fundamental knowledge to free you from testing fogginess—all framed around practical actions you can take today to strengthen your assessment literacy for tomorrow.

Click here to access supplemental resources including prefaces, extensions, and podcasts

About the Author
1. Why Fuss With Educational Testing?
2. Three Primary Purposes of Educational Testing
3. Behind Standardized Testing’s Cloudy Curtain
4. Validity: The Crux of the Caper
5. Reliability: Considering Consistency in Inconsistent Containers
6. Fairness in Testing: A Long Time Coming
7. Reporting Results: Where Rubber and Road Meet
8. Formative Assessment: Instructional Magic?
9. Students’ Affect: Underappreciated, Undermeasured
10. What Next?


“In the wonderful The ABCs of Educational Testing, Jim Popham says, “Too few folks who should know something about educational testing do not,” and sadly, he is right. If people in his five target audiences (teachers, educational administrators, educational policymakers, parents of school-age children, and everyday citizens) read this entertaining  (yes, “entertaining,” a word not often associated with educational testing!) and informative book it would go a long way toward correcting this unfortunate reality.

With his unique phrases and word choices (e.g., “I find myself magnetically drawn to a textbook that I wrote myself.”) Jim Popham clearly describes and explains the critical aspects of educational testing that need widespread understanding. He stresses the importance of tests being used and interpreted for the purpose for which they are intended, and shows why many of the tests used to evaluate schools, teachers and students are inappropriate. He does this through 10 short chapters that illuminate his 9 assessment-related understandings and his concerns about the lack of assessment literacy. In particular, he provides clarity to often confusing concepts such as validity and reliability and fairness in testing.

Popham says that “hands down” the chapter on validity is the most important, but for me the most important chapter is the one on formative assessment, which he identifies as “inexcusably underused.” I consider this to be the most important because my major involvement is with K-12 teachers and administrators and until recently most teachers and administrators, through no fault of their own, have not understood the instructional uses of assessment. This is changing because of the influence of people like Jim Popham, Rick Stiggins and Dylan Wiliam. Jim provides a definition of formative assessment that stresses that it is a process (not an event) that provides evidence, which enables teachers to adjust their teaching and students to adjust their learning strategies so that greater learning takes place. Traditionally teachers have put a number on everything students do and every number has been part of student grades regardless of the purpose of the assessment, but the research shows that it is descriptive feedback and identifying student understandings and misconceptions while the learning is going on that makes the greatest contribution to improving student achievement. Jim Popham understands this and makes the case that it is “remarkably effective” and “seriously underutilized.” 

To sum up, this book is a must read for the five audiences that Popham identifies because it is critical that everyone has the 9 assessment related understandings that he so eloquently and clearly explains and describes.”

Ken O’Connor, Consultant/Author/Former High School Teacher and Curriculum Coordinator
Assess for Consulting Inc.

“With The ABC’s of Educational Testing, Jim Popham continues his quest to support and enlighten all who have a stake in improving our educational systems. This short but immensely powerful instrument is in the form of a 10-chapter “chat” about the often-inscrutable business of student testing in our schools.

Popham’s book explains the sometimes impenetrable language of educational testing in a way that is easy to comprehend and appreciate. Each chapter illuminates a specific issue that that affords the reader a clear translation of the understanding, meaning, and important role of that particular issue in student assessment.

The book is precisely directed at five audiences who would have a clear impact on testing in schools: classroom teachers, educational administrators, educational policymakers, parents of school-aged children, and everyday citizens. It has the lofty yet simple aim of assuring that educational testing is understood and used as a potent tool for student learning rather than in other more pejorative and inappropriate ways.

Popham’s inimitable style is sure to capture the interest and engagement of any reader with an interest in student assessment. This book will be an indispensable guide for individuals and groups who want to help understand, monitor, and provide guidance for educational testing in their schools.”   

Frank Philip, Ph.D., Arts Education Assessment Consultant
Independent Student Assessment Consultant; Former Director, National Conference on Student Assessment, CCSSO

"This is a wonderfully entertaining book about a most serious matter—what teachers and other educators need to know about testing—written by one of our nation's finest educators and most engaging writers. The ABCs of Educational Testing is a highly readable, engaging, and authoritative book that allows teachers to design, use, and interpret educational tests in an appropriate way. 

It ensures that educational tests will reflect the purpose they were intended to fulfill, making the data obtained useful to educators instead of alien to them. It provides the basics of test design and interpretation in a lucid and engaging manner and is highly recommended for educators, particularly teachers and school board members. It provides them with everything they need to know about test construction and interpretation—and it does so in a lively manner. 

The ABCs of Educational Testing will help correct the inappropriate and misleading use of educational testing, one of our nation's growth industries.”

David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor Emeritus
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University

In this wonderfully entertaining book, Jim Popham provides us with a concise and readable summary of the absolute essentials of educational assessment. With the sure touch of someone who really understands his subject, he makes complex, abstract ideas accessible to everyone. Anyone who is interested in how to improve education—teachers, administrators, policymakers, parents—needs to read this book.

Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment
University College London

“Jim Popham has done it again! He has found the topic that educators must understand in this quantitative age—testing and accountability—and once more writes with clarity, grace, and a little levity about technical matters. I can’t think of a better way to communicate the essential information that on its face may look daunting. Jim’s book is approachable and helpful.” 

Eva Baker, Founding Director (CRESST) and Distinguished Research Professor

For instructors

Select a Purchasing Option

Rent or Buy eBook
ISBN: 9781506351544

ISBN: 9781506351513

This title is also available on SAGE Knowledge, the ultimate social sciences online library. If your library doesn’t have access, ask your librarian to start a trial.