Earlier in the month, a Brooklyn school principal wrote a
New York Times
op-ed protesting the gag order that testing company Pearson has put on teachers
and administrators to prevent them discussing the content of the company's new Common Core tests. According to Elizabeth Phillips, the test does "a poor job of testing reading comprehension," and:
In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.
But she can't get more specific than that, because of the gag order. Now, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has written a letter to Pearson's top executives protesting this lack of transparency
and sent two top AFT staffers to London to attend Pearson's annual shareholder meeting to underscore the point. She writes:
These gag orders and the lack of transparency are fueling the growing distrust and backlash among parents, students and educators in the United States about whether the current testing protocols and testing fixation is in the best interests of children. When parents aren’t allowed to know what is on their children’s tests, and when educators have no voice in how assessments are created and are forbidden from raising legitimate concerns about these assessments’ quality or talking to parents about these concerns, you not only increase distrust of testing but also deny children the rich learning experience they deserve. [...]
If Pearson is going to remain competitive in the educational support and testing business, the company must listen to and respond to the concerns of educators like Elizabeth Phillips who report that the company has ignored extensive feedback.
Parents, students and teachers need assessments that accurately measure student performance through questions that are grade-appropriate and aligned with state standards—especially since standardized tests have increasingly life-altering consequences for students and teachers. By including gag orders in contracts, Pearson is silencing the very stakeholders the company needs to engage with. Poll after poll makes clear that parents overwhelmingly trust educators over all others to do what is best for their children; educators’ voices, concerns and input should be included in the creation and application of these assessments.
This is big business: Pearson has a $32 million contract with New York state alone.
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