Like any good author, Ron Dietel has put plenty of himself in his second book, “The Perfect Test,” after finishing his first nonfiction book, “Get Smart: Nine Sure Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School.”
Dietel, the assistant director for research, use and communications at the UCLA Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, wrote “The Perfect Test” as a fictional mystery novel because of his passion for educational testing.
“I wanted to do something that was really unique, and I wondered who would try to write a mystery novel on national tests,” said Dietel, a former La Cañada Unified Governing Board president and board member from 2001 to 2005. “[Educational testing] is a field I know quite a bit about, because I’ve worked in it about 20 years. It really serves as the background for the story. The rest of the story is a whodunit with some action and a nice little twist at the end.”
Sections of the book are set in La Cañada, where Dietel lives, as well as in Glendale and Pasadena. The novel’s protagonist (Grant Wilson) is also an educational-test researcher and graduate of the Air Force Academy, like Dietel.
“The Perfect Test,” a book from Sense Publishers, will be available for purchase at the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse during a book signing with Dietel on April 21. The signing will follow a short talk from the author at 7:30 p.m. Dietel will donate the entire portion of his sales to the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation.
“It’s the least I could do, after my kids went to school in this district,” Dietel said. “There’s no doubt our schools face such huge economic hurdles right now. To me, there’s no more important contribution we can make for our children than their education.”
Dietel has spent the past four years working on “The Perfect Test.” He wrote most of the story on his laptop computer as he commuted in a vanpool back and forth from La Cañada to UCLA.
The story takes place some 10 years in the future, when America’s school system has tried every possible trend in education and has just found its saving grace, the Venus Assessment System, aka the “perfect test.”
The Venus Assessment System, created by Grant and his wife Jennifer Wilson, becomes the first national test in U.S. history and changes how the country educates its youth, simultaneously putting American students at the top of the world in math and science.
Students are required to take the test every two years, and they’ll be placed in a high or low-performing school depending on how they fare. Jennifer goes on to discover a secret list of names — students exempt from the high stakes of the test — so secret that some people are willing to kill for it.
“Ron clearly illuminates the downside of high-stakes student testing in this gripping mystery,” said education blogger and La Cañada High School 9-12 PTA President Kathy Hernandez, who provided her own suggestions after reviewing an early draft of the book.
“The Perfect Test” comes at a defining moment in education history, with more than 40 states having recently signed on to a set of common core academic standards and a $350 million federal investment to create tests that measure those standards, Dietel said.
Dietel has written more than a dozen articles on the topic of testing, in addition to writing and directing several documentary films. He hopes those who pick up his latest book will enjoy the read and perhaps ponder what has become a growing emphasis on standardized tests in America’s public education system.
“I just want them to think about how tests are used and ask themselves if we depend too much on testing,” Dietel said. “We rank everything — schools, teachers, principals — we need to work out how accurate all these rankings are and determine whether or not they’re serving everyone’s best interest.”
“The Perfect Test” can be purchased online at www.sensepublishers.com. For more information on the April 21 book signing, call Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse at (818) 790-0717.