Book by: Charles Hargis & Charles C. Thomas
Review by: Daniel Shelnutt
College of Arts and Sciences, School of Mass Communications
University of South Florida
To call Charles Hargis a critic of standards-based assessment would be to call Gordon Ramsey a critic of poorly-prepared dishes. In his latest work, Hargis refers to standards-based assessment and the one-size-fits-all approach that has become the hallmark of Common Core, as “likely to be demoralizing to both students and teachers”. In addition, Hargis argues that standards-based assessment “tells us nothing instructionally useful” (p. 91). While the critics of Common Core and standardized testing are numerous, Hargis separates himself from others by also offering an alternative assessment in the form of curriculum-based assessment, which encourages assessment as a tool to determine what a student knows, rather than a criticism of what they don’t know.
Hargis’ fourth edition of Curriculum-Based Assessment: A Primer focuses on K-12 students, and specifically on students with learning disabilities and “low-achieving” students as he defines it. While the material is certainly more relevant to educators working with the K-12 sector, there are, without question, characteristics of curriculum-based assessment that are relevant to our work as academic advisors Bloom’s model of Appreciative Advising, not unlike Hargis’ curriculum-based assessment, encourages the assessment and identification of strengths; Hargis prescribes to a belief that low-achieving students lack neither the capacity nor the willingness to learn, but react adversely to negative feedback, which Hargis argues comes from assessments that unfairly criticize low-achieving students. Similar to the way in which Appreciative Advising encourages students to discover and hone their strengths, Hargis suggests that assessments that focus on students’ strengths, and placing greater focus on improvement versus aptitude when considering assessment, will ultimately result in improved performance.
One of the greatest advantages to Hargis’ work is the noticeable accessibility of the material, even to someone who has limited or no prior knowledge of educational assessment strategies. The author thoroughly explains how the current, largely standardized assessment measures force labels onto many students who neither want nor need them, and he provides an alternative method via curriculum-based assessment. If there is a criticism of his work to be found, some may call it overly idealistic; one suggestion asks teachers to develop their own reading materials as opposed to using pre-published examples. While this would be an ideal situation, asking teachers to provide increased individualization of curriculum based on a student’s strengths seems counterintuitive to the realities of public education today, specifically those with a large population of “low-achieving” students.
An area of future research related to Hargis’ work would be how curriculum-based assessment could work in higher education, particularly in pre-professional programs that prepare students for specific careers or industries; I would certainly recommend Hargis’ work for anyone who is interested in a reasonable, if somewhat idealistic alternative form of assessment to what currently exists in K-12 education.
Curriculum-Based Assessment: A Primer (fourth edition). (2013). Book by Charles Hargis, Charles C. Thomas. Review by Daniel Shelnutt, Springfield, Illinois: Thomas Books. 214 pp. $33.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-0-398-08868-2