Wednesday, March 11, 2015
PARCC Social Media PR Stunt Backfires On Maryland DOE
The "new generation" of standardized testing has arrived, and seems to have triggered a "new generation" of incentives as well. Districts are coming up with all sorts of ways to coerce children to take the tests and convince parents to let them.
On her Answer Sheet blog Valerie Strauss highlighted some bizarre incentive programs intended to "bribe" students to take Common Core tests. The programs have cropped up from all over the country, and have included gift cards, iPads, “bonus points” for the next marking period, skipping English and math final exams, elective credits, extra recess and "free dress" days for schools with uniforms.
An ill conceived Maryland Department of Education PR campaign directed at parents may however win the award for most distasteful. It claimed to be letters from 4th graders to "Mom and Dad" telling them not "worry" or "be stressed out" about the "big test" because it's "just a little reading and math" and the teacher knows the kids will "do fine."
Hayden wants his parents to know he "might have a little headache from working hard on the computer" but Kara says that if her parents will just "feed her a good breakfast" and let her "wear the same clothes all week" it will help her do her best on the PARCC. (I'm not going to touch how odd it is for a state agency to suggest it's OK to let a kid wear the same clothes five days in a row, or to make light of a kid coming home from school with a headache from too much screen time, let alone to ignore that not all kids have a "Mom and Dad")
Not only did the Maryland State DOE display the bad judgement to create and post these supposed letters from 9 and 10 year olds, the DOE's Chief of Staff, John White, shared it on Facebook with the statement "Truth from the mouths of babes..."
What I find particularly offensive is that the DOE is arrogant enough to presume they can hijack the voices of children, and use them to sell their own agenda. If a random sampling of 9-10 year olds were asked what they truly think of taking a 10 hour math and english test, it's hard to imagine there wouldn't be a very wide range of responses. How completely disingenuous and arrogant to cherry pick only the rosy cheeked "everything's going to be just fine!" responses.
Here is just a few of the comments on the post, but it is a pretty representative sample of the reaction the post elicited from people that don't work for the Maryland DOE.
It didn't take a degree in PR to know that this train wreck of a post was going to be removed, and fast. Sure enough, by this morning - *POOF* - it was gone, with nary a word about the ruckus it had caused the day before. This tactical error on the part of the Maryland DOE will no doubt become a powerful recruitment tool for Maryland opt-out organizers.
But what does it say when a state department resorts to this kind of emotional manipulation to try to sell the PARCC?
Here's what I think. If educationally sound, rational arguments about the need for high-stakes annual standardized tests resonated with parents and students, DOE's wouldn't need to rely on this kind of coercion and propaganda. It seems the opt out movement's message is resonating so strongly that it is drowning out the talking points, incentives and PR tricks of those desperately trying to stay in charge and in control of the narrative.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.