In the NY Times this weekend, they ran a story about parents in New York City schools boycotting field tests, or standardized tests written by Pearson that test what questions should go on the actual test.
The standardized test review and update is needed because the current standardized tests don't align with the Common Core standards.
From the article, a couple details emerge:
- Pearson charges the city to give sample tests that will then help them write the test; in other words, the school district is paying for kids to act as free labor and lose instructional time so that Pearson can write a test that the district can buy;
The current tests aren't accurate enough to reliably indicate progress, and Pearson doesn't have enough information to make them accurate without using kids as subjects. From the article:
The existing standardized tests no longer reflect what New York’s children are learning and do not accurately assess instruction, according to Adina Lopatin, deputy chief academic officer in the New York City Education Department.
- The new tests that are in the process of being written (the ones that don't have final form yet) will supplant the old tests (the one's that aren't accurate enough) as a means used to measure a school's progress. In other words, the means to measure progress isn't anchored to anything real, as comparing the old to the new is a rotten apples to unripe oranges comparison.
The school district is paying Pearson to have kids lose instructional time and act as unpaid market research subjects so that Pearson knows enough to write the test that will then be used to determine whether the schools are doing their job teaching the new curriculum that aligns to the new standards.
Taking a step back: Pearson was part of a small group of textbook companies, pharmacuetical companies, for-profit educational companies, and technology firms that were the original endorsing partners for Common Core. This information is no longer readily available on the current Common Core web site, but it is still accessible via the Internet Archive of the Common Core web site. Pearson also lobbies at the state and national level around education bills, and actively courts educational decision makers with junkets and other perks.
To put it more succinctly, Pearson helped write the standards. Pearson paid lobbyists to help shape the laws. Pearson sells curriculum and assessments designed to help schools meet the new needs that they helped create, while actively courting educational decision makers with "fact-finding" trips. The fact that a school can use a Pearson-written to prepare for a Pearson-written exam, and that the results of that exam determine how successful or unsuccessful that school is doing, is troublesome.
And in fairness, other textbook, media, and technology companies are in the education space are doing similar things. Pearson, however, is one of the biggest, and they also provide a good example of how companies can inject themselves into multiple points of the supply chain to meet a demand that they helped create.
New standards require new curriculum - this curriculum must be bought or developed.
New curriculum requires new assessments - these assessments must be bought or developed.
New laws tying school and teacher performance to scores on tests raises the perceived importance of standards-aligned curriculum and assessments - schools ignore the standardized approach to instruction at their peril. Or, like so many others, when faced with mounting external pressures in a system that measures test scores as opposed to learning, they cheat.
And, coincidentally, companies like Pearson who were at the table when the standards were written just happen to offer curriculum aligned to those standards, and assessments aligned to the new curriculum. Given the number of states who have adopted Common Core, we are talking about a lot of money that schools and districts now need to spend - or, in other words, given the timeline of Common Core standards adoption and the penalties for "falling behind," many school districts now have a large incentive to play it safe and just buy the curriculum. The fact that this is also a way of funneling huge amounts of public money into private companies? Meh. You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, right?
So, to the parents in New York keeping their kids home: kudos. Keep it up.