Several weeks ago a fourth-grade school teacher posted a blistering online commentary on the Common Core PARCC test. Among other criticisms she wrote:
Right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.
Columbia University’s Teacher College Professor Celia Oyler read the anonymous commentary and reposted it in mid-May. In response, she received an official letter from the CEO of PARCC threatening legal action unless she removed the post because it contained “copyrighted material.” The PARCC letter also demanded that she provide the company with the name of the anonymous teacher who wrote the article.
She wasn’t alone.
Other education bloggers and advocates who posted a link to Oyler’s original article or tweeted about the story also received an email warning that they should remove the link or expect legal action. The Common Core PARCC test is paid for with taxpayer funds and the test is given by public school teachers in public schools, but public criticism of the test is, according to the PARCC, an infringement of the company’s rights.
Oyler refused to provide the name of the author but did remove materials that she deemed might be copyrighted. She also renamed her post: The PARCC Test: Exposed [excerpts deleted under legal threat from Parcc].
Blogger and Progressive Education Fellow Peter Greene put it this way:
So this is what we've come to—it's an act of brave rebellion, a risk to career and livelihood, to publish some questions from PARCC's Big Standardized Test.
At Outrage on the Page, an anonymous teacher has taken the what-shouldn't-be-dangerous step of publishing actual questions from the fourth-grade PARCC. This is a dangerous move because, of course, we are all sworn to secrecy about our BS Tests. In PA I must swear that I won't look at the test, and if I do, I will promptly forget everything I see there. We've known for a while that Pearson has a security team that monitors social media for any student security breaches. Because at the end of the day, BS Test manufacturers are more worried about their proprietary money-making property than they are about making a good test or providing real test results.
You know what kind of test needs this sort of heavy security? A crappy test.
So who is PARCC? And where do they get off claiming that their interests trump freedom of speech?
PARCC’s full title is The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. According to its website,
PARCC is a group of states working together to develop a modern assessment that replaces previous state standardized tests. It provides better information for teachers and parents to identify where a student needs help, or is excelling, so they are able to enhance instruction to meet individual student needs.
Using massive amounts of Federal Race to the Top funds, along with donations from the Gates Foundation, PARCC was one of two entities responsible for developing the new Common Core standardized testing program that the government mandated for all students in grades three through eight and eleven. (The other entity goes by the name of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.).
The PARCC effort began with a “consortium” of twenty-four states and the District of Columbia. But controversy about the Common Core and Common Core testing began to grow, and states started dropping out. By the summer of 2015, only nine PARCC members remained: Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island.
PARCC, Inc., the “project management partner” for the PARCC consortium, hired the massive multinational corporate, Pearson Education, to design, produce, score and manage the Common Core testing program for member states.
Despite assurances that the selection process for the extremely lucrative contract to run the PARCC test would be competitive, in 2014 the Washington Post reported that Pearson was the only bidder for the PARCC job.
And Pearson doesn’t have an exactly stellar record.
Thanks to a massive a contract Pearson produced New York State Department of Education’s standardized testing program in 2014. What became known as the “talking pineapple test”—due to a section narrated by an animated fruit—included more than thirty major errors. New York officials announced they wouldn’t count the problematic questions in student achievement scores.
The latest PARCC/Pearson controversy makes the talking pineapple problem look like child’s play. PARCC’s effort to silence its critics sparked a firestorm.
Leonie Haimson, who runs the education advocacy group Class Size Matters reacted to the news about the PARCC’s threat of legal action by posting: Read the blog post that PARCC doesn't want you to see -- and then share it on your blogs!
She laid it all out:
Here is the critique of the 4th grade PARCC exam by an anonymous teacher, as it originally appeared on Celia Oyler's blog before she was threatened by PARCC and deleted key sections. See also my post about my tweet that was deleted after PARCC absurdly complained to Twitter that it infringed on their copyright!
As an act of collective disobedience to the reigning testocracy, I urge all other fellow bloggers to paste the below critique and copy it into their blogs as well.
As the teacher points out below, "we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States."
No high-stakes test that is used to judge students, teachers and schools should be allowed to be kept secret to escape accountability for the test-makers—especially ones as flawed as these!
Public education champion Diane Ravitch added her own post and another leading education blogger, Mercedes K. Schneider, posted an open letter addressed to PARCC, Inc. CEO Laura Slover.
Haimson pointed out in a follow-up article, that the company’s tactic undermines fundamental principles of free speech and overlooks provisions of the fair use doctrine that developed alongside the country’s copyright laws. She wrote:
In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement.
PARCC’s attack on citizen journalists and public school advocates is a perfect case study of the corporatization of public education. As the corporate elite extend their influence over the country’s institutions and elected officials, they threaten legal action to silence those who push back.
But citizen journalists and education advocates refuse to be silenced.
Jonathan Pelto is an investigative blogger and citizen journalist working to educate, persuade and mobilize people on issues related to public education.