Saturday, May 21, 2016

aPARCColypse Now

The last ten days have been a test of how diligent PARCC might be about protecting their sad test (and, yes, a test of the internet's ability to coin a PARCC-based pun to refer to this dustup). For those of you playing along at home, here's a rundown of what has happened and what issues are involved and some of the questions on the table at this point.

Events kicked off when Celia Oyler, an education professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, posted an anonymous critique of the PARCC fourth grade reading exam. That post was picked up by some other bloggers, including me, but within a few days PARCC was on the case.

Initially they went after tweets that linked to Oyler's article. That in itself was an.... interesting move because none of the tweets actually included allegedly copyrighted material, but they did link to posts that did include the test prompts. This suggests its own little DMCA research project-- just how many degrees of separation from copyrighted materials can companies legitimately pursue? Apparently a link to a post containing allegedly copyrighted materials is not okay. What about a link to a source that contains a link? A link to a link to a link to a link?

The clean-up of twitter seemed to be job one, taken on so quickly that the DMCA request filed included a misspelled job title for the guy at PARCC filling the request (Kevin Michael Days, Assoicate Director, Operations). Meanwhile, Oyler got a letter, not from the PARCC legal department, but from PARCC chieftain Laura Slover herself, requiring Oyler to take down the allegedly copyright materials AND requesting that she hand over the name of the anonymous teacher.

Next up-- going after the posts themselves. Diane Ravitch's post just kind of went away overnight; Ravitch's blog is on the wordpress platform, which turns out to be an important detail. Many other bloggers who work on the blogger platform received notice that their DMCA-violating post was being turned back into a draft (basically, unpublished but not actually erased). The targeting there seemed a bit random-- some posts were hit almost as soon as they were up, while my post stayed up for almost a week before anyone got to it, though I did not get a nifty letter from blogger explaining why it was happening. It just did. I'm a little curious about exactly whether a bot or a harried secretary or an intern or Slover on her lunch break did the detective work here, because it all seems a little slapdash. (I have reposted a redacted version of my post for the time being, just to keep the record straight).

There has been speculation that twitter and blogger have been hit by PARCC and quicker on the draw because they are more "corporate" entities than wordpress. With the exception of Ravitch, I haven't run across any wordpress bloggers who have been pushed to take the post down, and in fact, this post on a wordpress blog has been up since May 11 has all the material in Oyler's original post and then some.

The blogger platform belongs to google, which adds a level of irony to all of this since google is infamous among writers for the google books project, in which google just went on ahead and made digital copies of every book they could get their hands on. I've published a couple of books and you can find them fully available in free digital format on google-- and not because google asked me, but because they just went ahead and did it and if I don't like it, I can ask them to take it down.

There are multiple issues involved here. Mercedes Schneider has raised the question of who exactly holds the copyright for these items. I suggest you read all of this-- there are several complex issues here above and beyond the fact that we taxpayers footed the bill to create the damned tests in the first place.

Many folks have raised the question of whether or not publishing and discussing the prompt items comes under the doctrine of fair use. Which takes us to the larger question of how we discuss, as a country, anything at all about the tests if nobody is allowed to talk about them, ever.

PARCC has offered their own press release on the matter, chock full of hooey about how the security of the test must be protected and keeping things fair for all the hardworking educators and students out there. I particular like the part about being fair to the many hundreds of educators who have invested thousands of hours providing input and helping to develop and review test questions, ensuring that they are of high quality, align to standards, and are grade-appropriate." In other words, we're worried about swell teachers and not proprietary corporate products. Because these teachers slaved over these super questions and then said, "Please, don't let anyone see or discuss our work, ever. We prefer to live in the shadows."

Meanwhile, the story has been picked up by Slate, USA Today, and the Progressive. And yesterday afternoon Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post provided a good summary of The Story So Far.

And now, since corporate types are home for the weekend, the story can simmer for a bit.

Issues? As a sometimes writer and hack musician, I have a great deal of respect for intellectual property rights. But to use copyright law as a way to keep a secure lock on a piece of work that virtually unprotectable is just... silly. The prompt that I originally included verbatim can be summed up easily as "Read the story Sadako's Secret and make up another story that could be a sequel to it that talks about when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team." That summing up could be done by any English-speaking human who ever laid eyes on the test, including every single child who took it. To imagine that it can be kept more secure than the launch codes or the latest episode of Walking Dead is just dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

More importantly, and I have made this point before, any test that requires that level of security is a crappy test. It is a test built on a foundation of "gotcha" and hidden tricks.

This flapdoodlery is, in many ways, a waste of all our time, even as it is necessary to push back when PARCC tries to silence any serious critique of their product. We should be talking about the test, its many flaws, and the many reasons it should be thrown in the dustbin of education history; instead, we are busy talking about corporate shenanigans and the idiocy of trying to lock down the internet. But there are important reminders here. It's a reminder to outfits like PARCC that maintaining perfect secrecy and security is a fool's game. It's a reminder to those of us in the blogosphere that the platforms and social media that we use are companies, owned and operated by corporate entities, and it is ultimately their circus and they can do what they want with the monkeys.

But most of all, it's a reminder of just how lousy the PARCC is. A test so sad and fragile that to let any part of it see the light of day will cause it to shrivel to dust like a data-sucking vampire (not the cute sparkly kind), a test so feeble that it can't withstand the most rudimentary examination or discussion. All of this is simply more proof that the PARCC is a bad test that needs to just go away.


  1. Ah, that explains why I had to re-publish my re-post yesterday; it had indeed reverted to Draft form.

  2. "PARCC has offered their own press release on the matter, chock full of hooey about how the security of the test must be protected"

    "security"? or is it "scrutiny"?

  3. Regardless of the adults involved if you present idiocy to children they will talk, post, tweet.


    My post, on my computer, in my office. Waiting for the threats.