What most people don’t know is that with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), the New York State Education Department (NYSED) has instituted a provision to limit the speech of professional educators beyond what I think would normally be considered reasonable or necessary. I wonder if this has occurred in other states.
These limitations are broad and indefinite, and govern educator conduct in and out of school.
I am speaking of the “Exam Scoring Confidentiality Agreement” and directives to teachers articulated in the test-administration manuals. Teachers score portions of the exams, once they have been “calibrated” by Pearson/NYSED. This is a process whereby teachers are forced to evaluate student responses as Pearson/NYSED wish, resulting, according to some teachers, in more student failure. Note that school administrators indicate, in jest, that they must sign the form in blood (I assume they’re joking).
To my knowledge, no such agreement existed when teachers constructed and graded Regents exams, as was the practice many years ago — an education past that few seem to know about. This earlier practice was before test development was contracted out to powerful for-profit publishing companies that have come to dominate education policy and practice.
There are some fairly obvious problems with the Agreement.
The first problem is that the language of the Agreement is overly broad. “I agree that I will not use or discuss the content of secure test materials, including test questions and answers, in any classroom or other activities.” For how long one must be silent? If a teacher discusses a test item at a Christmas party this coming December, is she in violation of the agreement? What happens if a student wants to discuss a test item a week after the test has been completed? The “Teacher’s Directions” manual says: “At no time may the contents of the test books be reviewed, discussed, or shared through any electronic means.” Of course the contents should not be shared during the week of testing. But the other restrictions are striking in their reach.
A second problem is this: the restrictions absolutely contradict the propaganda that these tests are to help teachers improve their teaching, and thus, help students. If teachers are not allowed to discuss the content, how might it inform their practice? How are teachers to respond to student questions about last week’s test items? “I’m sorry Mark, but I was required to sign an agreement barring me from even talking about the test with you. This is to ensure you are ‘career and college ready’.”
And, by not being able to discuss the actual test and how students responded, teachers and the public are pressured to rely solely on official versions of what the tests results mean. This is a means for blocking knowledge of direct experience for both teachers and students and imposing the official interpretation of state authorities.
Yet, there is another significant problem. Is it not a violation of the basic principle of due process to block teachers from discussing the standard that is used to judge their performance and ultimately their employment status? “I judge you ineffective, but you cannot see the evidence!”
Last year I toured a school during the 3-8 NYSED testing period. I was astounded to see the extensive set of rules that administrators must follow to ensure test security, including requirements that a private company destroy unused test booklets, as if they were state secrets (and school administrators incapable of using a shredder). I think the process made a mockery of airport security! I thought then as I do now: “If only students were treated with such care!”
I am sure that part of the pressure to keep test items secret is to ensure Pearson receives maximum profits (exposed test items might increase the amount of work needed to craft tests each year; of course, public items might make the company look bad as was the case with “pineapple gate” last year). This in itself suggests contracting out test development is anti-public and should be opposed. The public has a right to see the actual tests by which public school students and teachers are judged. If the tests were meant to help, we would all benefit from such publicity.
And here’s a tie-in to a much more widely discussed problem: the inBloom, Inc. scandal, which NYSED has refused to comment on (reportedly the Board of Regents met about this yesterday, at least in part as a result of public outcry). Private corporations get to see, discuss and sell private, personal student and teacher information, without any consent from parents or education workers, while teachers and students are told they cannot even discuss (or see, in the case of parents) the tests.
This demand for secrecy while recklessly sharing student and teacher data without any form of consent is indeed an example of arbitrary political power. The over zealous test secrecy is itself a signal that the insurgents are illegitimate. They seek to hide what they are doing to students and teachers. Thus I feel compelled to hammer home this point: it is not just the tests or test policies alone that are the problem. These “high stakes tests” reflect the growing arbitrary anti-public power that established them, and as such, it is this arbitrary anti-public power that must be confronted. For the public schools to serve the public good, they must be accountable to and governed by the public.
- I’m interested in and researching this history, but if you have information, please post it in the comments. ↩
- One wonders if the State will move to out rightly block thinking, adopting the use of Bill Gates’ new “Thought Blocker Pro” software ↩
- Of course, I’m referring to the effort to make sure the tests are “safe” and “well cared for”, not the police-state atmosphere! ↩
- See my earlier posts on the issue here and here, and this very useful update ↩