Archives for category: Pearson

Rhode Island teacher Shelley McDonald resigned from her position before the school board of North Kingston fired her. She is a woman of conscience. I name her to the blog’s honor roll for standing up for principle.

Facing termination from the North Kingstown School Department because of her refusal to administer testing last fall, high school math teacher Shelley McDonald has decided to resign. Her decision, accepted by the school committee at its June 28 meeting, comes after a long fight with school administration on testing which she felt, if she consented to give the tests to students, had the potential to violate her privacy.

“I chose to resign because I just no longer had the energy, the support, nor the finances to fight what clearly looked to me like an unwinnable situation,” she said on Wednesday.

This past February, McDonald went before the school committee because of her refusal to administer PARCC tests to students in March and December 2015. She has been a long-time opponent of the school’s installation of wifi in classrooms, citing health concerns with electro-magnetic radiation created by the technology at numerous committee meetings over the past two years.

She had also claimed that the terms and conditions of the test’s publisher, Pearson, Inc., include the potential release of personal information, such as social security numbers, to unknown third-party groups, something to which she did not want to agree.

A memorandum of agreement was drawn up between the school department and the North Kingstown teacher’s union which stated that only very specific items of personal information, such as the teacher’s name and district email address, would be accessible by Pearson. The MOA added that teachers would be held ‘harmless’ in administering the test unless in cases of ‘gross negligence.’

Superintendent Philip Auger declined to comment specifically on McDonald’s resignation. He has been adamant throughout the ordeal that McDonald’s termination was decided because of her insubordination in administering the tests when no other teacher held such opposition, not her repeated claims that wifi was potentially harmful to students.

This interview with John Fallon, the CEO of Pearson, was conducted at the Aspen Ideas Festival, an event that is held annually and completely dominated by reformers and entrepreneurs.

Pearson has a responsibility to end educational inequities, he says.

Perhaps someone might explain to him that standardized tests are normed on a bell curve and the bell curve never closes. The bottom half is always populated by disproportionate numbers of children who are disadvantaged by poverty, by language, by disability.

Inequity is baked in to standardized tests. By design.

And, the states and districts that spend hundreds of millions to test children are diverting that money from teaching them.

Even worse, the tests are so secret that teachers and parents never learn about the strengths and weaknesses of individual children.

And that doesn’t even touch on the problems with the EdTPA and the GED.

Perhaps Mr. Fallon can tackle these problems.

Oops! Pearson picked the wrong teacher for its Silver Award.

Rose Veitch, a teacher at Hackney College, turned it down.

Testing expert Fred Smith worked for the New York City Board of Education for more than a decade. Now retired, he assists parent groups understand what the testing corporations are doing.

In this post, he reviews the items released by Pearson (via Questar) to New York. 75% of the test items on the ELA were released. He wonders, why not all of them? We the taxpayers bought them, why not release them to see what we paid for?

He goes through specific test items to show their flaws.

This is a useful review of what the testing corporations are doing.

Jonathan Pelto recounts here the story of PARCC’s efforts to stifle hundreds of bloggers.

 

Can a multinational corporation stifle free speech?

 

Can teachers and parents speak about and criticize the tests that children are required to take?

 

Can Pearson/PARCC hide behind copyright law to prevent any open discussion of the quality and developmental appropriateness of the tests they create?

 

When a conscientious teacher writes that the test her students took in fourth grade were written in language appropriate for sixth and seventh grade, isn’t this information that parents and the public need to know?

 

Is the copyright law being used to hide the shoddy quality of Pearson’s work?

 

Does the “fair use doctrine,” which permits limited quoting from copyrighted material, pertain to standardized tests?

 

Is it possible to give a test to millions of children and expect that none of the questions will be discussed at home, on social media, or in teachers’ lounges?

 

 

After loud and persistent complaints from parents and educators about the testing giant Pearson, the New York State Education Department announced that Pearson would be replaced by a new testing vendor, Questar. That was last year. The footnote was that Pearson would continue to be the testing contractor for 2016 and 2017. Then the state would switch to Questar for fully online assessments.

 

But lo! What’s this?

 

Questar just hired a Pearson testing expert–Katie McClarty– to be in charge of Questar assessments.

Katie may be a fine psychometrician, but what are the chances that the new assessments will be a change from the old assessments? Sounds like Pearson all over again.

I was contacted by the president of PARCC and asked to remove copyrighted material from this post. I did so.

 

 

 

Professor Celia Oyler at Teachers College, Columbia University, posted a critique of the 4th grade PARCC test on her blog by a teacher who must remain anonymous.

 

The teacher wrote this exposé because she was outraged by the absurdly inappropriate questions. She gives examples of questions and text that are appropriate for students in grades 6-8, but they are on a test for 4th graders.

 

She/he writes:

 

“So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.”

 

The test doesn’t even assess what it claims to assess, nor does it accurately reflect the standards.

 

Read the examples she/he includes to illustrate her argument.

 

She/he concludes:

 

[Deleted example]

 

“In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.”

 

This analysis helps to exain why the PARCC consortium is shrinking. It started with 24 states and DC. It is now down to six or seven states and DC.

 

Parents should refuse to allow their children to sit for these exams. PARCC should be permanently parked–far from children.

 

Anya Kamenetz wrote an illuminating and actually frightening article about Pearson’s ambitious plans to introduce for-profit education around the world. I quote the article at length because it is so important. I urge you to read it in full. It appears in “Wired” magazine.

 

Kamenetz went to Manila where she interviewed a mother who sends her school owned by Pearson. The classes in the local public schools are larger than in the Pearson school, and the parent doesn’t want her son to go to school with “those other children.” She is willing and able to pay $2 a day to get something for her son.

 

The sign on the Pearson school says, “APEC Schools: Affordable World Class Education From Ayala and Pearson.”

 
APEC is “a different kind of school altogether: one that’s part of a for-profit chain and relatively low-cost at $2 a day, what you might pay for a monthly smartphone bill here. The chain is a fast-growing joint venture between Ayala, one of the Philippines’ biggest conglomerates, and Pearson, the largest education company in the world.

 

“In the US, Pearson is best known as a major crafter of the Common Core tests used in many states. It also markets learning software, powers online college programs, and runs computer-based exams like the GMAT and the GED. In fact, Nellie already knew the name Pearson from the tests and prep her sister took to get into nursing school.

 

“But the company has its eye on much, much more. Investment firm GSV Advisors recently estimated the annual global outlay on education at $5.5 trillion and growing rapidly. Let that number sink in for a second—it’s a doozy. The figure is nearly on par with the global health care industry, but there is no Big Pharma yet in education. Most of that money circulates within government bureaucracies.

 

“Pearson would like to become education’s first major conglomerate, serving as the largest private provider of standardized tests, software, materials, and now the schools themselves.

 

“To this end, the company is testing academic, financial, and technological models for fully privatized education on the world’s poor. It’s pursuing this strategy through a venture called the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. Pearson allocated the fund an initial $15 million in 2012 and another $50 million in January 2015. Students in developing countries vastly outnumber those in wealthy nations, constituting a larger market for the company than students in the West. Here in the US, Pearson pursues its privatization agenda through charter schools that are run for profit but funded by taxpayers. It’s hard to imagine the company won’t apply what it learns from its global experiments as it continues to expand its offerings stateside.

 

“The low-cost schools in the Philippines are one of Pearson’s 11 equity investments in programs across Asia and Africa serving more than 360,000 students. Two of the most prominent, the Omega Schools in Ghana and Bridge International Academies based in Kenya, have hundreds of campuses charging as little as $6 a month. They locate in cheaply rented spaces, hire younger, less-experienced teachers, and train and pay them less than instructors at government-run schools. The company argues that by using a curriculum reflecting its expertise, plus digital technology—computers, tablets, software—it can deliver a more standardized, higher-quality education at a lower cost per student. All Pearson-backed schools agree to test students frequently and use software and analytics to track outcomes.

 
“Not every Pearson-backed chain will succeed, but the company can use the outcomes to assess which models work best. Pearson will have a stake in the winners; the Affordable Learning Fund takes at least one seat on each board. The goal is to serve more than a million students by 2020….

 

“Pearson’s corporate reputation doesn’t help matters. In the US, just the mention of its name is enough to make some education activists apoplectic. In 2014 the company was implicated in an FBI investigation of unfair bidding practices for a $1.3 billion deal to provide curricula via iPads to the students of Los Angeles Unified School District. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Pearson monitored the social media accounts of students taking its Common Core tests and had state officials call district superintendents to have students disciplined for talking about the exam. Barber himself points out to me that his face appears as “the seventh-scariest person in education reform” on an anti-Common Core website.

 

“Yet in many parts of the world, low-cost private schools are a big step up from existing public schools, where buildings may be falling down, philanthropic grants are used to line local officials’ pockets, and teachers don’t bother to show up. The father of Nobel laureate and youth education advocate Malala Yousafzai himself started a chain of low-cost private schools in Pakistan.

 

“Barber’s thesis is simple: If his company can offer a better option, millions of families…will vote with their feet. “Technology and globalization are going to change everything, including the status quo in education,” he says….

 

“Because space is tight, the schools have no nurse’s office and no science lab. Some have no gym or play space. One amenity offered everywhere is closed-circuit cameras, a nod to parents’ paramount concern: physical safety.

 

“Pearson models do vary by setting and the visions of individual entrepreneurs. All of them, though, save money on teachers and claim they still deliver a superior education—even though most research shows that teacher quality is the single most important factor in a student’s education. Donnelly and Barber draw parallels to US charter schools, which employ younger, less-experienced teachers without union protections, and to Teach for America, which places recent college grads into the country’s most challenging classrooms with just five weeks of training….

 

 

“But a matchup between a $9 billion public company and the impoverished governments of developing countries looks lopsided, to say the least. If Pearson achieves its vision, only the most destitute would remain in public schools in the world’s largest and fastest-growing cities. Or those schools would close down altogether, as governments increasingly outsource education—a fundamental driver of development and democracy, a basic human right, and a tool of self-determination—to a Western corporation. Teaching would become a low-paid, transient occupation requiring little training. And Pearson would try to bring the lessons it learns in Africa and Asia to education markets in the US and the UK.

 

 

“One morning in Manila, I had breakfast at a five-star hotel with James Centenera, who…was key to launching the APEC schools. In his view, for-profit schools have quickly become an accepted part of the educational landscape here—just another option. “I’m glad people have stopped asking whether the schools are better.” Startled, I realized his remark spoke to a mantra of Barber’s: irreversibility.

 
“In other words, create enough momentum around any change and you’re no longer arguing the merits of your idea. You’re simply treating it as a fact on the ground and rallying others to the cause.

 

 

“What makes this a most effective path to change is also what makes it terrifying and infuriating to critics. Inserting itself into the provision of a basic human service, Pearson is subject to neither open democratic decisionmaking nor open-market competition. The only check on its progress will be the tests that Pearson itself creates.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2012, Leonie Haimson was first to report the ludicrous “Pineapple and the Hare” story that embarrassed Pearson and New York State. She learned about it on her blog, the NYC Parents Blog, where teachers, principals, and students described the problems they encountered.

 

Once again, Leonie (a member of the board of the Network for Public Education) is first to bring the first-hand reports about the flaws in the ELA exams.

 

 

Here are some of them:
“These included overly long, dense and grade-inappropriate reading passages with numerous typos, abstruse vocabulary and confusing questions; many of which teachers themselves said they couldn’t discern the right answers. On the third grade exam, for example, an excerpt from a book called “Eating the plate” was actually fifth grade level and sixth to eighth grade interest level. There were many reading passages with Lexile levels two or three grades above the grades of students being asked to comprehend and respond to these texts.

 

“In 6th grade there was a poem from the 17th century that the teachers in our building read in COLLEGE. 11th grade level.”

 

On the eighth grade exam, one reading passage featured obscure words like “crag” and “fastnesses”. As one teacher wrote, “What are fastnesses?…I asked eight of my fellow colleagues to define this word. 1 of 8 knew the answer. Unless you are a geology major, how is this word a part of our everyday language, let alone the reading capacity of an average 8th grader? And our ESL students?”

 

I even asked my husband, a professor in the Geosciences department; he didn’t know what “fastnesses” meant either.

 

 

There were several passages that included commercial product placements as in years past, this time featuring the helmet manufacturer Riddell, Skittles candy, Stonyfield yogurt, and Doritos. (Riddell is being sued by a thousand NFL players for deceptive claims that their helmets protected against concussions.)…
Two new problems emerged. One was the omission from many of the test booklets of blank pages that were supposed to be used by students to plan their essays, or the titles of the pages were left out. Instructions to deal with these problems came from the state only after many children were in the midst of writing their essays or after they had completed the exams. In these cases, teachers pointed out, this represented an unfair disadvantage to their students, who were forced to either use the limited space at the front of the booklet to plan their essays or didn’t plan them at all.

 

But perhaps the most heartbreaking was an unforeseen but brutal consequence of the untimed nature of these exams, the major innovation made by Commissioner Elia that was supposed to reduce the stress levels of kids. Instead, many students labored for many hours, taking three to five hours per day to complete them, and sometimes more.

 

Here’s one comment from Facebook:

 

“This afternoon I saw one of my former students still working on her ELA test at 2:45 PM. Her face was pained and she looked exhausted. She had worked on her test until dismissal time for the first two days of testing as well. 18 hours. She’s 9.”

 

This is a travesty; no child should be subjected to such a punishing regime. It also appears to violate the NY law passed in 2014 that limits state testing time to one percent of total instructional time.

 

 

In any case, it appears that the parents who chose to opt their children out of the exams were wise to have done so. All in all, the number of opt outs seem to have held steady from last year’s 240,000, or even perhaps increased, with even higher rates of test refusals in Rockland County, NYC, and Long Island, which surpassed its record rates last year, with more than 97,000 students opting out, or about 50% of eligible kids compared to about 47% last year.

In an attempt to placate and undercut the opt out movement this spring, New York Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia promised significant changes in the tests.

 

Testing expert Fred Smith says the promised changes are insignificant, in fact, “illusory.”

 

Although the state has dropped Pearson and hired a new test vendor named Questar, Pearson is still in charge of the 2016 tests.

 

 

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