Monday, September 2, 2013

PARCC Common Core test tricks and the secrecy of the tests

*Common Core corporate tie-ins *PARCC test question secrecy *inBloom and data mining controversies *The silence of the unions in the face of test questions secrecy

The Common Core is a private entity, created by in a secretive process by a non-governmental entity, detailed here, replete with copyrights, and a seeming tie-in for two of the best connected publishers, McGraw Hill and Pearson.

Diane Ravitch mentions in "What is the Goal of Common Core testing?" that Rick Hess predicts that Common Core States Standards anxiety, prompting some parents "to demand “reforms” and an escape from their neighborhood schools." As she says, reformers will gloat over failing scores (no doubt to continue the "failing schools" line --schools that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo now says deserves the "death penalty").

So, is it any wonder that the Common Core associated interstate assessment (the 21st century edujargon for testing) consortia (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)) are playing games with letting the public see the tests and their questions? After all, when such tests were under state production, teachers could retain copies of past tests and use them for preparing students for the tests. If the tests are all important, wouldn't that be fair all around, for teachers and students, so that all could excel?

Not so in the world of private test production.
The PARCC consortium made a big media splash on August 19, saying that it was making some questions public. The tricky thing is that meant just a couple of questions per grade, not entire tests. Not the self-congratulating press release, making an appearance of transparency: PARCC Releases New Sample Items. Yet the PARCC site purported to carry the questions actually contains carries a very scant sample of questions. Note further, that when you click on some of the links you get disclaimers that you are clicking away from a site under the authority of PARCC. This is another indication that as you privatize the test production you get less and less transparency. Seasoned veteran teachers will recall that in the not-too distant past you could access state tests for your grade or discipline. Interesting: teachers are expected to teach to the test, yet, they are now blocked from seeing past tests.
All the PARCC issues are leading states to bail out, so far: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania (PA is remaining in the consortium, but will not use the test); and Oklahoma has withdrawn for 2014.

This essential statement came up at an August 14 recent Diane Ravitch blogpost, "NY Regents: Release the Test Questions!"
And when my own students do poorly on a test I created, I take a closer look at the test items and try to understand why they got the questions wrong – perhaps I made a bogus test – it’s happened to every educator out there. We won’t be able to do that here. Could it be that these kids didn’t really get all that much wrong? Or is it that the construction of the test items were so riddled with ambiguity and multiple correct responses that they don’t want us to see what a poorly crafted instrument it was? Or, perhaps it is because they tested 4th graders with 7th grade materials?
The timing is a little suspect. Could this be happening to mollify the growing uproar following the August 7, 2013 release of disastrous New York State test results from Common Core-aligned tests?

Take note of how so many of the up-front organizations PARCC and SBAC are non-profit. This distracts us from the fact that with little transparency or explanation, the two consortia have benefited generously from the government monies to create the tests: all together, the consortia received $346 million in federal education grants.
Not too far behind the veneer of the myriad of the non-profits, PARCC, SBAC, inBloom, are corporations profiting from the test creation, administration and data mining and storage.
Such is the case with inBloom, the designated company originally for nine states, now only New York, to mine and store data. Technically, it is a non-profit with ample Gates Foundation money; however, it is operated by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation’s Amplify Education. Parents are uncomfortable with the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS, the controversial student data mines). The SLDS is an integral part of the multi-state usage of Common Core, and is another dictate from Arne Duncan's Race to the Top program. The primary informational technology person at inBloom has confirmed that the child's Social Security number is the primary element for accessing student data.
Stephanie Simon reported in Reuters, "School database loses backers as parents balk over privacy," revealing how “officials in several states [are] backing away from the project amid protests from irate parents.”  More specifically, “Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware - all initially listed as partners on the inBloom website - told Reuters that they never made a commitment and have no intention of participating. Georgia specifically asked for its name to be removed.” Massachusetts and North Carolina are said to be seriously reconsidering their involvement as well.

We see that this permanent war against teachers economy, just as the military has had "black budget items," items that were kept secret, "for the good of the people," we have Common Core questions that are kept secret-- NY's State Education Department is only selectively disclosing some questions. Since the government cannot use the national security excuse, what excuse could they use? -Corporate private security or copyright. Baloney. The real reason is that the tricky questions hello will expose what illogical, inappropriate questions the Common Cores brings into English and math, as At the Chalk Face reports. The blog site reports several substantive issues with the Common Core questions. This is the negative consequence of privatization of test publishing functions by the international corporate giant, Pearson PLC, away from what historically had been a public function under the aegis of the New York State Education Department.

However, from the organization that we would expect to hear much criticism, the United Federation of Teachers, whose members were in touch with the tests, we have heard limited anecdotes exact questions creating the trouble (any wonder there's a government ban on publicizing the questions under threat of firing or suspension of teachers), mixed with praise for the Common Core, as indicated in this April op-ed column in the Daily News from the UFT president, Michael Mulgrew. The leader mentioned the lack of a curriculum, the fact that test prep is not teaching and that teachers are over-burdened with paperwork. Contrast this limited critique with the multiple details from the Chalk Face blog a week earlier.
This is reflection, once again, of the detachment of the union leadership from rank and file (regular non-officials) teachers on the ground. Otherwise, we would have heard fire and this depth of detail from Mulgrew, and probably less enthusiasm for the Common Core, and even better yet, a statement on how the Common Core as dictated, leads to more micromanaging of teaching, and diversion of English teachers away from features that excited them about the subject, such as narrative expression or literature. Alas, is there any wonder why the union leaders are uncritical cheerleaders for the Common Core? As revealed in the deutsch29 blog, Bill Gates gave $5.4 million to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which has a symbiotic relationship with the UFT, and $6.3 million to the National Education Association (NEA).