Book Review – Bruce Biskin

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9/29/08
Bruce Biskin


Question: What did you gain from reading Improving Testing?

Answer: Having been out of the large-scale assessment for several years, I found the book to be a great refresher of the issues involved in large-scale assessment. I really liked the organization of the book with each of the first five sections representing a key component of a quality assurance model and the last section summing up and laying out important issues to be addressed in the future. I believe that the broad concepts covered in the book could be applicable in almost any organization, even though some of the chapters focus on testing and specific issues in the large-scale testing enterprise. Because the book focuses on how you maximize quality with the resources you have and how focusing on continual improvement is an intrinsic part of quality assurance, the book helps the reader understand the value of thinking about quality while doing everyday work.

Question: Was Improving Testing practical?

Answer: In my current career role as a career planning and development professional focused on helping individuals make educational career decisions, the focus on large-scale testing was less practical for me than it might have been in previous roles—though the broad principles of quality assurance and improvement in service delivery still hold. In a previous role, however, I was on the staff of a non-traditional college with responsibility for student assessment-for-credit programs. In hindsight, I wished I had had this book to use as an authoritative reference to bolster my case for additional resources for quality improvement, particularly given the limited resources available at the time. Since much of the assessment work involved low-volume exams and other assessments for credit, in my view the value of Improving Testing goes far beyond large-scale testing programs.

Question: Finally, can you help complete this thought, based on your own experience.

“Readers of Improving Testing are likely to benefit from the book if…”

  1. They work on, or influence policy for, testing programs
  2. People who read the book, whether or not they are in testing, can absorb the key concepts of quality assurance and apply them to whatever endeavor they may be engaged in.

Additional comments: The first two chapters are broad overviews and are very helpful to all. The chapter by Wild and Knapp on standards that apply to testing organizations is also an excellent overview and very useful. The Six Sigma chapter by David Anderson is very helpful, explains what Six Sigma is and how much you can save by doing things well and documenting the value of quality to an organization’s balance sheet. By getting the right people together to improve a service or product, you can do things better, cheaper and faster, particularly if efficiency and effectiveness of existing processes are less than optimal. My experience at other organizations suggests that there is little motivation for an organization to improve without leadership support (which is discussed in a separate chapter in the book). However, in my experience in organizations which are reasonably effective, it has been difficult to improve quality, increase speed of delivery, and reduce cost simultaneously without a major paradigm shift (e.g., major technological advances in test delivery).

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