Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fight Over PARCC Test Questions Revealed

Update 2: this story falls into the category of the "Streisand effect" which is a meme I had not heard of before.

From Know Your Meme:
Streisand Effect refers to the unintended consequence of further publicizing information by trying to have it censored. Instead of successfully removing the information from the public, it becomes even more widely available than before as a backlash against the censorship attempt.
end of update

Update: the great public ed researcher/writer Mercedes Schneider penned a letter to the head of PARCC, Laura Slover.  I'd say it hits the mark brilliantly.

end of update

Jonathan Pelto is a fellow public ed blogger out of Connecticut who writes the blog, Wait What?  He writes about an event that happened recently when another blogger,  Professor Celia Oyler at Teachers College, Columbia University posted a blog thread at her blog, Outrage on the Page, from an anonymous teacher writing quite openly about the 4th grade PARCC test.   The teacher starts her piece this way:

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum.

What unfolded after Oyler posted this teacher's experience was the folks at PARCC having a high-level hissy fit. 
Here's one example about the test from the teacher:
One passage, according to Scholastic, was at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level.
Moreover, the questions asked were ridiculously difficult, including one that demanded students "Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem." 
That's a 4th grade question.  (And note: I'll be expecting my very own e-mail from PARCC threatening me with legal action as well.)

After this Oyler posted this piece, the owners of the PARCC test got heavy-handed.  Diane Ravitch wrote about it at her blog:
Celia Oyler, professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, posted a biting commentary by an anonymous teacher about the flaws of PARCC. She received a letter from PARCC threatening legal action unless she removed the post because it contained copyrighted material —and divulged the name of the author.

Oyler left the post on her blog but removed anything that might be copyrighted. She has not given up the name of the author. Many people who posted a link to Oyler’s original post or tweeted it received an email warning that they should remove the link or expect legal action.
One of my first reactions when this was unfolding was that PARCC is not a government entity nor a public safety entity.  Who are they to try to force someone to reveal who a source is?
Other nationally-known bloggers and activists weighed in at Ravitch's blog:
Peter Greene posted about the test, based on Oyler’s blog, and flew under the radar. He didn’t receive a threat from PARCC, and I feel badly for him.

He wrote, in his inimitable fashion:
“You know what kind of test needs this sort of heavy security? A crappy test.”
As Leonie Haimson said in a tweet, it is crazy to give a test to millions of students and expect that no one would write about it or talk about it.

There is something worse than disclosure of “secure” test items. There is loss of reputation. And that is what PARCC is putting at risk with its heavy-handed tactics.
Haimson tweeted about the original Oyler post and Twitter took down her tweet after PARCC officials told them that Haimson was violating their copyright.  Here's her blog thread on that experience.
This afternoon, I got the following message from Twitter, explaining that they had deleted my tweet because of a claim from the PARCC people that it somehow infringed on the "copyright" of Laura Slover, the CEO of PARCC. The complaint was made by Kevin Michael Days, who calls himself "Assoicate Director [sic], Operations" of PARCC.
So I'm joining the chorus of bloggers who question these tactics by PARCC.  And I base my question not so much on copyright but question our rights as taxpayers and parents.

I have to wonder about a test that taxpayers pay for in order to test public school students' knowledge that cannot have even a few questions be available.  Parents can't see them and teachers can't discuss them.  These are not state secrets or vital to national security but the way the people at PARCC are reacting, you might think they were.

What is lost is that it does appear - as many of us suspected all along - is that PARCC and SBAC are probably not developmentally appropriate.   And probably are "crappy tests."


Anonymous said...

That's the kind of stuff I did in middle school and high school down in Arizona. In 4th grade? We memorized a Shel Silverstein poem and explained how it rhymed and looked at the words he used to make it humorous. In other words, we learned to enjoy his poems and appreciate how he made them funny. That's what 4th graders should be doing.
PARCC also uses many passages that are no longer under any copyright because they are old. Think about the thee's and thou's and all those language expressions & vocabulary no longer used and who that privileges when taking the test. Certainly not low-income students with very little access or exposure to books, not to mention classic literature,
SBAC is not quite as bad in the passage leveling, I've been told, but still has poorly written prompts, asks students to do things that are not appropriate for their grade level or developmental level.
The whole thing is such a farce.


Steve said...

If 10,000 people copied this test question and posted it, would they go after all of us? Or would it go viral and expose the secrecy around these tests?

Anonymous said...

We opted our child out for 8th grade and opted for the SAT instead (not for everyone, I know). It was just one morning of testing, it was paper and pencil, and the College Board had free practice tests available online to get familiar with the format. It was just so straightforward.

The SBAC and PARCC tests make me miss the days of ITBS testing: no computers required, no lost library time, minimal test prep and test taking time, and fast turnaround on results. I hope more and more states start rejecting SBAC and PARCC and go back to something simpler and saner.

-opt outer

Melissa Westbrook said...

Steve, I think that's what most bloggers are thinking. Post it widely and see what happens.

Opt Outer, I, too, remember the ITBS (which was cheap AND the gold standard of its time). You have to wonder why it has to be so complicated.

Patrick said...

Fair use under copyright includes quoting passages for criticism or commentary. Quoted passages have to be short, but they copyright holder can't ban them entirely.

Presumably PARCC's real threat is not that they could win in court, but the legal process would bankrupt the individual blogger.