Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ready Or Not, Here Comes The 2nd Grade PARCC

The 2nd grade PARCC test has come out of hiding.

This image has been making the rounds on social media. It seems a K-2 school in Lake Hopatcong, NJ has already field tested PARCC for 2nd graders. And a quick google search reveals they are not the only district. Pleasantville Public School's April calendar shows 4 days of grade 2 field testing starting tomorrow.

If you jump on over to the PARCC website, here is what they have to say about their K-2 Formative Assessments.

To help states measure student knowledge and skills at the lower grades, the Partnership will develop an array of assessment resources for teachers of grades K–2 that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards, and vertically aligned to the PARCC assessment system. The tasks will consist of developmentally-appropriate assessment types, such as observations, checklists, classroom activities, and protocols, which reflect foundational aspects of the Common Core State Standards. The K-2 formative assessment tools aim to help create a foundation for students and put them on the track to college and career readiness in the early years.
These K-2 assessment tools will help educators prepare students for later grades and provide information for educators about the knowledge and skills of the students entering third grade, allowing classroom teachers and administrators to adjust instruction as necessary. These tools also will help states fully utilize the Common Core State Standards across the entire K-12 spectrum. (emphasis mine)
What I find most peculiar is that the Lake Hopatcong principal sold the field test to parents as a benefit to the students. But if you read the passage above from the PARCC website, it is clear that the test is still under development, which means these children are being used as PARCC product testers. Here are a couple of definitions of "field test". First, from Mirriam Webster:

verb \-ˌtest\
: to test (something, such as a product) by using it in the actual conditions it was designed for

And also from Business Dictionary:

field test

Experimentresearch, or trial conducted under actual use conditions, instead of under controlled conditions in a laboratory. Also called field experiment.

I post these definitions to make it clear that a field test is little more than an experiment; an experiment being conducted on public school children by a for-profit company using tax payer resources and your children. Pearson conducting field tests on 7 year olds is not for the benefit of the children, it is for the benefit of Pearson

Here is PARCC's report from their 2014 field test. Please, try to find some reference to the field test being beneficial to student participants.

Field testing is actually to the detriment of students who are missing instructional time to help Pearson refine their product. Last year sixth graders in Massachusetts were smart enough to realize that they were being used as guinea pigs for Pearson's profits, and they asked for payment for the time they spent field testing Pearson's product.
One student, Brett Beaulieu, drafted a letter asking that he and his classmates be paid for their time and even calculated how much they should receive if they were paid the minimum wage for 330 minutes of testing : a total of $1,628 to be divided among the kids.
The Lake Hopatcong principal admits in her letter that "students will not be scored on their responses and the school will not receive the results of the testing" while making a feeble attempt to claim students will benefit solely by being forced to sit for a standardized test at the age of 7 to prepare them for the test when they are 8. That's a pretty hard sell.

If NJ districts implement Pearson K-2 tests, will 5-7 year olds be forced to agree to the same code of silence that students in grades 3-11 must abide by? If you are still not sure that it is a bad idea to allow a for-profit behemoth like Pearson to write tests for children as young as 5, please read this post now.

And since all of these assessments are purchased from private corporations, the testing material is ideological property. The students taking these exams – regardless of age – are no longer treated as children. They are clients entering into a contract.
At the start of these tests, students are warned of the legal consequences of violating the terms of this agreement.
In particular, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests require students to read the following warning on the first day of the assessment:
DO NOT PHOTOGRAPH, COPY OR REPRODUCE MATERIALS FROM THIS ASSESSMENT IN ANY MANNER. All material contained in this assessment is secure and copyrighted material owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Copying of material in any manner, including the taking of a photograph, is a violation of the federal Copyright Act. Penalties for violations of the Copyright Act may include the cost of replacing the compromised test item(s) or a fine of no less than $750 up to $30,000 for a single violation. 17 U.S.C. $ 101 et seq
So the first act of testing is a threat of legal consequences and possible fines. (emphasis mine)
There is no way that young children can possibly understand the consequences of such agreements, and far too many parents are unaware of what their children are being forced to agree to just to sit and take a test.

And there's more:

In addition, they are told NOT to:
-talk with others about questions on the test during or after the test.
-take notes about the test to share with others.
Sure kids shouldn’t talk about the test with classmates DURING the testing session. Obviously! But why can’t they discuss it after the test is over!?

Can 5 - 7 year olds even be asked to agree to such terms? We saw what happened to older students that made the mistake of mentioning PARCC on social media. What will happen to a 7 year old who's caught talking to the kid at the next lunch table? Will there be disciplinary consequences if a 2nd grader talks to a 1st grader about the test questions? Will the student get detention? Suspension?

To be clear, assessments in grades 1 and 2 are not new. The NJASK had 1st and 2nd grade tests, called the NJPASS, which were not state mandated and were not reported to the state, but districts could choose to administer. My own district administered NJPASS, and two years ago I opted my daughters out of the test. Last year the district decided not to administer the test, and I was told by an administrator that they "never got very good data" from the test anyway.

The major difference here, as I see it, is that the state of NJ is potentially allowing Pearson, a multi national, multi billion dollar company, to have a monopoly, not only on testing our children in grades K-11 but also in preparing them for the tests and offering remediation products based on test results.

Politico's Stephanie Simon recently wrote a blockbuster expose on Pearson, in which she stated:
To prepare their students for Pearson exams, districts can buy Pearson textbooks, Pearson workbooks and Pearson test prep, such as a suite of software that includes 60,000 sample exam questions. They can connect kids to Pearson’s online tutoring service or hire Pearson consultants to coach their teachers. Pearson also sells software to evaluate teachers and recommend Pearson professional development classes to those who rate poorly — perhaps because their students aren’t faring well on Pearson tests. 
The New Jersey Assembly has already passed a bill that would prohibit the administration of non-diagnostic standardized tests prior to 3rd grade. The Senate needs to act now. They have the power to keep Pearson away from our youngest students. If Pearson's grade 3-11 tests were field tested in NJ in the 2013-14 school year and implemented in the 2014-15 school year, it stands to reason that a Grade 2 field test this year means the introduction of a Grade 2 PARCC test next year. 

So what is the NJ Senate waiting for?


  1. This is a formative, not a summative assessment. Formative assessments are the sort that teachers claim to support. Or so I thought.

    Also, isn't one of the loudest complaints about PARCC that it wasn't rolled out without adequate field-testing? So, now you've uncovered evidence of a pilot program that is doing field-testing of a formative assessment tool, and you're criticizing the company for doing that field-testing? I don't understand. Are we supposed to be *for* field-testing or *against* it?

    1. Encarta defines "formative assessment" thus: "the assessment at regular intervals of a student's progress with accompanying feedback in order to help to improve the student's performance."

      When will teachers be getting "feedback in order to help to improve" student performance from PARCC? We aren't getting it from them now; what little information we *do* get from PARCC comes when it's far too late to help improve student performance.

  2. Pearson may name this test a 'formative' assessment but that does not make it so. Teachers support WELL DESIGNED and VALID formative assessments.
    Re: field testing.
    Field testing any normed assessment requires a rigorous process of repeated population sampling, testing & retesting. Researchers who develop assessments in Universities are required to present their experimental procedures to an Institutional Review Board (IRB), undergo strict approval standards, including a document delivered to every test taker's parent who signs INFORMED CONSENT. Refusal to participate or drop out is required in EVERY informed consent doc. No legitimate field testing is permitted without such safeguards in place. At least- not for research institutions.

    Is it possible that Pearson has some special treatment allowance that allows it to bypass research standards?

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