Sharon L. Nichols, assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development, is a passionate critic of “high-stakes” standardized testing in
American public schools. She and co-author David C. Berliner present their argument in Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts American Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2007).
“This book is trying to ring the alarm,” Nichols says. “When you use a test as the only way to make a decision on teacher effectiveness, it is extremely problematic and damaging.”
The authors trace the history and expansion of this trend, which was strongly affected by federal legislation, beginning with the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act and 1983’s landmark report, A Nation at Risk. The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act required states to adopt a system of accountability for schools based on standardized testing.
Nichols and Berliner, a professor at Arizona State University,
apply a social science principle called Campbell’s Law in their analysis. This principle holds that the more important an
indicator becomes, the more likely it is to corrupt and distort the very process it is monitoring.
“We applied it to education and we found a range of examples that showed the more important we make these test scores, the more likely we’re creating this environment in which the
process of education is completely corrupted,” Nichols says. Nichols and Berliner document the prevalence of cheating and other offenses committed by educators to help raise scores.
They acknowledge that it’s a reasonable expectation that the public wants to know how well schools are functioning, and they offer several examples of alternative assessments in their final chapter.
How does linguistic research help make a brand name successful? How important is
a single sound in marketing communications? These questions, and many related topics, are examined in a new volume titled Psycholinguistic Phenomena in Marketing Communications (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), edited by Tina M. Lowrey, professor of marketing.
Lowrey first became interested in psycholinguistics and marketing 20 years ago. “In the past five years, there’s been a resurgence of interest by newer marketing scholars in psycholinguistic theory,” she says.
The volume aims to showcase the diversity of current
research in the field of psycholinguistics and marketing communications. Three of the book’s four sections delve into
research focused on units of language: words, sentences and bodies of text. The last section is a summary written by social psychologist Robert S. Wyer Jr. on the topics and ideas
presented by the various contributors.
Lowrey’s chapter, co-authored with L.J. Shrum, UTSA professor of marketing, examines the many ways sound conveys meaning apart from semantic content. Drawing from classic linguistic theory by renowned linguists and their own research, they examine the phenomenon of phonetic symbolism, such as how the smallest unit of sound may carry symbolic meaning.
Studies have shown that vowels voiced with the tongue in the back of the mouth carry a connotation of large size and space. One example would be the u sound in blunder. The
converse has been shown for vowels pronounced toward the front of the mouth, for example, i as in million.
The implications of phonetic symbolism in branding and product preference are the subject of emerging research. The researchers found that a brand name will be preferred if a product and the symbolism evoked by its sound was a match. “Not only will you prefer it, you’ll remember it as well,” Lowrey says. In the author’s experiments, subjects associated the made-up word brimley with a convertible; bromley with a sport utility vehicle.
“If you’re naming your new brand, it might be wise to take into account some of these ideas, and have your name be linked to the right associations,” Lowrey says.
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