The deepest secret in New York used to be the disappearance of Judge Crater. Judge Crater disappeared one night in 1930 and was never heard from again.

But now the state has an even deeper, darker, more consequential secret: what was on the Common Core tests.

Principals and teachers have complained about the tests but they are under a strict gag order not to reveal their contents. In this post, Bianca Tanis, parent and educator, asks why parents can’t find out anything about the tests that will be so consequential for their children and for teachers. Are there any Pineapples lurking in there? Trick questions with two right answers?

Left in the dark, parents speculate:

“Over the course of the past year, parents have come to realize that these tests serve no purpose other than to grade teachers and feed the data monster. The continued secrecy surrounding the tests further undermines the idea put forth by NYSED that they are simply an assessment of “where kids are” and supports the assertion that the purpose they serve is much, much darker. Those in power know that if these assessments can be used to paint an image of a public school system that is failing to prepare students for the future, and if we can use them depict teachers as ineffective, there is money to be made.” Those peddling educational products, test prep materials, and consulting services aimed at fixing “broken” schools stand to gain billions of dollars off of these secret tests. The more we believe that 70% of NYS students are failing, the more willing we are to throw money at solutions to this manufactured crisis.”

The tests have high stakes for students and teachers alike. Shouldn’t parents have a right to see the instruments used to measure the worth of their children?

She writes:

“The questions raised by this practice are staggering. For instance, some schools have used these tests to determine placement in advanced courses or remedial courses. How do we know if these assessments are a valid measures of student ability if most people have never seen them? Are we denying students access to programs based on a flawed measurement? And if the instrument used to evaluate educators is broken, what does this mean about the teacher improvement plans foisted upon experienced, dedicated teachers? If the test is shown to be a broken instrument, who will be responsible for the costly lawsuits and legal battles that will ensue? These questions must be addressed if we are to continue to use an evaluative instrument that has never been available for unbiased scrutiny or even examined for validity.

“And what exactly are we measuring? 2013 ELA test questions released on Engage NY show that students who used valid inferences in their written responses supported by paraphrased details from a passage did not receive full credit despite being correct and demonstrating a thorough understanding of the text. This is because the Common Core requires students to use a strategy called “close reading,” a strategy that requires them to support their answers using only “text-based details.” What this means is that a student who engages in higher-level thinking skills (such as inference) and who is able to explain a text in his or her own words will not score as a well as a students who simply copy text details verbatim into their response. If high-stakes testing encourages teaching to the test, could we actually be encouraging a dumbed-down, formulaic method of responding to a text? Without access to these tests, we may never know.”

Some years ago, the State Legislature passed a”Truth in testing” law, requiring disclosure of test questions. Did it disappear? Why doesn’t the public have a right to know?