Publisher's ultimatum in test leak riles educators
A long-simmering dissatisfaction over standardized testing came to a head this month when an academic uploaded a handful of test items to the Internet and promptly got a note from the test’s creator, threatening legal action if she didn’t take down the items — and name her source.
The academic, Celia Oyler of
Columbia University’s Teachers College, took down the items, which she said came to her anonymously. But the episode is irking educators and other observers who already believe that the powerful forces behind the tests are hijacking not just the educations of millions of children but, in this case, teachers’ rights to free speech. They note, for instance, that tweets about the episode have been taken down at the test publisher's request.
The controversy began nearly two weeks ago, when Oyler posted a lengthy essay by an anonymous teacher who set out to show that the fourth-grade reading test designed by the non-profit Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is “developmentally inappropriate” for the children taking it this spring in a handful of states. The blog post included details from three test items.
Five days later, after other bloggers had shared the post, Oyler got an e-mail from PARCC CEO Laura Slover, who respectfully asked her to remove the items. They were protected by copyright, she said, and were “live” test questions, still being used in schools. The postings, Slover said, “threaten the utility of the assessments, both as their administration is completed over the next few weeks and in versions of the assessment to be administered in the future.”
She said the anonymous teacher, who’d admitted in the essay that he or she had “breached a written undertaking not to reveal any of the material,” was clearly avoiding personal responsibility by remaining anonymous. Slover said PARCC would waive any damage claims if Oyler would take down the items and “turn over to us any information you may have about the teacher.”
She had 24 hours to comply.
In an interview, Oyler said that if PARCC set out to threaten her, it worked: “It took me five minutes to take those items down,” she said. “Of course it took me another 10 minutes to start finding a lawyer.”
The First Rule of Test Club is We Don’t Talk About Test Club https://t.co/n89PokNGVf via @StevenSinger3— Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) May 18, 2016
PARCC is one of two groups commissioned to create tests based on new Common Core standards in math and reading. The standards — and the tests — have come under fire from critics on both the left and right, with a few educators saying the tests are poorly written and force teachers to squeeze out more satisfying subjects that schools have traditionally taught.
“You’re no longer permitted in many places to engage in rich, project-based, authentic learning, which is how we know children learn,” Oyler said. “We know this from years and years of research.”
In a few cases, tests items simply didn’t make sense: in one incident in 2012, students piloting a Common Core reading test complained about a baffling question involving a talking pineapple who challenges a hare to a race, only to lose and be eaten by the other animals. One suburban New York principal noted that the question had been used before and “confused students in six or seven different states.”
Common Core complaints have even bubbled up to the presidential race, where most of the Republican candidates have advocated getting rid of the standards Publisher's ultimatum in test leak riles educators:
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