Monday, March 16, 2015

Big Security

ICYMI-- one of the best summaries of the Pearson surveillance flap is by Anthony Cody over at Living in Dialogue.

In addition to covering the various types of surveillance in play, and he includes a reference to the column by Cynthia Liu at K-12 News which advances and articulates an argument that several edu-bloggers have raised. It's not just the surveillance (which odes not really reach the level of spying) , but the enforcement-- that Pearson et al have turned state Boards of Education into agencies tasked with preserving corporate intellectual property rights. What we're being treated to is the spectacle of a system whose first priority is watching out for the business interests of a corporation-- the rights and education of students is a lesser priority. Why doe the corporation's concerns come first?

Daniel Katz has raised the question "Why is Pearson's intellectual property a thing?" It's a good question; why are the states that joined together in consortia in order to hire a corporation to produce a test for them-- why do these states not take possession at the end of the process?

I think Cody's column answers all of these questions. He writes this:

Any system that imparts heavy consequences for success or failure must have intense security.

That's correct. If the stakes are huge, that means that the people on the receiving end of potential punishments or rewards are highly motivated to make their numbers any possible way they can. If you put all the food in the castle and tell the villagers that only those who get inside the walls get to eat, you'd better believe that the villagers will be highly motivated to get past those walls any way they can.

The testing system requires Big Security because it is a big system. It's spread all over the country. Back when gold mattered, we put it all in a couple of forts because that was easier to defend. If we had put one gold bar in every city hall in America, defending it would have been a nightmare because there would be a million points of vulnerability.

The Big Standardized Test has a million points of vulnerability. BS Tests face an inherent contradiction-- security is maintained by letting as few people as possible actually see the product, and yet the product can't be used without being viewed. This means (in a relationship dynamic repeated throughout the world of education reform) that the clients are also the enemy.

All across the nation, millions of pairs of eyeballs are seeing what must not be seen.

As Cody notes, the credibility of the entire reform program rests on those tests. Everything in the reformster program depends on those tests being a fair and accurate measure of the (many, many) things they purport to measure. So the state education departments, the Data Overlords, the reformsters entrenched in various offices across the nation-- they need for the test to at least look secure and valid. This means security must be tight because 1) it's a lousy test whose gotcha questions must be sprung as a surprise and 2) the more responsible grown-ups see the test, the more criticism of the test gains traction.

So both state reformsters and corporations need tight super-security, and only the corporation has the resources. The state will be willing to pitch in on security because they have a stake in it, and they'll be willing to let Pearson et al cruise social media and deploy test police because the corporations have those kind of resources. And of course Pearson won't actually hand over the test to the states because the system has given the states a huge stake in the security of Pearson's "intellectual property."

The issue of test security is welded to test validity, and both are bonded tightly to the issues of ed reform itself. The BS Tests have simply advanced the smooshing together of state and corporate interests. The only interests not represented in all this-- the interests of students and of public education.

1 comment:

  1. The situation re: security is worse that you think. In the New Mexico Administrative code, it is prohibited to even disparage or criticize the very concept of the standardized test!

    Relevant portions of the code below: STAFF RESPONSIBILITY:
    C. It shall be a prohibitive practice for anyone to:
    (8) disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of the standardized tests. [ NMAC - N, 09-28-01; A, 11-13-09]

    WEB address;geturl;terms=disparage