Unlearned Lessons

Unlearned Lessons Six Stumbling Blocks to Our Schools’ Success

By W. James Popham
Pub. Date: March 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-052-2
paper, 192 Pages
Pub. Date: March 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1-934742-14-3
Price: $27.00

Add to Cart

Look Inside the Book

2010 Notable Education Book, American School Board Journal

“Why is it,” writes noted assessment expert W. James Popham, “that today’s educators seem almost compelled to replicate their predecessors’ blunders?” Looking back over a career of more than fifty years in education, Popham identifies six key “unlearned lessons” in education and reflects on their impact on schools, teachers, and students.


Popham shares the wisdom gained from a lifetime in education and assessment. He reminds us, with humor and clear examples, that there are ways to build accountability systems that do not lead to excessive test preparation, teaching to the test, or attempts to cover curricula more rapidly than is sensible. Unlearned Lessons helps us to see the folly of repeating our errors again and again. — David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor, College Of Education, Arizona State University

A wise and witty analysis of six obstacles to better schools from one of the nation’s foremost testing experts. Popham identifies persistent flaws in the way we approach education—and shows how to fix them. Anyone frustrated by the current wave of test-driven reforms will enjoy this guide to bringing more sense to schooling. — Jack Jennings, president and CEO, Center on Education Policy

Given all that has been written about what ails American education and how to fix it, seldom are the problems and possible solutions captured so cogently, and in terms everyone can appreciate. There is much here that demands careful attention by educators and policymakers alike. — Jim Pellegrino, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Education, University of Illinois at Chicago

More Less

About the Author

W. James Popham has spent the bulk of his educational career as a teacher. His first teaching assignment was in a small high school in eastern Oregon, where he taught English and social studies while serving as yearbook advisor, class sponsor, and unpaid tennis coach. That recompense meshed ideally with the quality of his coaching.

Most of Dr. Popham’s teaching career took place at UCLA, where, for nearly thirty years, he taught courses in instructional methods for prospective teachers and courses in evaluation and measurement for graduate students. At UCLA he won several distinguished teaching awards and, in January 2000, he was recognized by UCLA Today as one of UCLA’s top twenty professors of the twentieth century. (He notes that the twentieth century was a full-length century, unlike the current abbreviated one.) In 1992, Dr. Popham took early retirement from UCLA upon learning that emeritus professors received free parking.

Because at UCLA he was acutely aware of the perishability of professors who failed to publish, Dr. Popham spent his nonteaching hours affixing words to paper. The result: 30 books, 200 journal articles, 50 research reports, and 175 papers presented before research societies. Although not noted in his official vita, while at UCLA he also authored 1,426 grocery lists.

Dr. Popham’s most recent books are Classroom Assessment: What Teachers Need to Know (5th ed., 2008) and Assessment for Educational Leaders (2006); The Truth about Testing: An Educator’s Call to Action (2001) and Test Better, Teach Better: The Instructional Role of Assessment (2003); America’s “Failing” Schools: How Parents and Teachers Can Cope with No Child Left Behind (2005) and Mastering Assessment: A Self-Service System for Educators (2006). He encourages purchase of these books because he regards receiving their semiannual royalties as psychologically reassuring.

In 1978, Dr. Popham was elected to the presidency of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). He was also the founding editor of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a quarterly journal published by AERA. He has attended each year’s AERA meeting since his first in 1958. He is inordinately compulsive.

In 1968, Dr. Popham established the Institutional Objectives Exchange, which then was known as IOX Assessment Associates, an R&D group that formerly created statewide student achievement tests for a dozen states. He has personally passed all of those tests, largely because of his unlimited access to the tests’ answer keys.

In 2002, the National Council on Measurement in Education presented Dr. Popham with its Award for Career Contributions to Educational Measurement. In 2006 he was awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the National Association of Test Directors. His complete forty-two-page, single-spaced vita can be requested. It is really dull reading.

Table of Contents (PDF)

Preface (PDF)

E-book available through online booksellers

Harvard Education Letter article by W. James Popham

Other books in Testing and Assessment

Other books in Testing and Assessment

Formative Assessment in Practice

Margaret Heritage, foreword by W. James Popham

Other books in Testing and Assessment

New Frontiers in Formative Assessment

Edited by Pendred E. Noyce and Daniel T. Hickey, foreword by Lorrie A. Shepard

Books From This Author