Thursday, March 9, 2017

Testing Bribes

One of the biggest challenges connected with the Big Standardized Test is also one of the most important-- getting students to actually care.

State and district officials all across the country have largely failed-- and they know it.

Why, yes, I am very excited about the PARCC test.

This is less of a challenge with the littles. A primary teacher can tell her students, "I need you to put your dead possum on your head while poking yourself in the bellybutton with a red crayon," and those children will knock themselves out racing to grab the best piece of roadkill like it is the Most Important Thing Ever. When you're eight, hardly anything in the world makes sense, so you just trust the adults you love and do your best to make them proud of you.

Even so, the word has gotten out that the BS Test is a waste of everyone's time, and the parent-driven opt out movement has spread the word that you don't actually have to suffer through this baloney.

And by the time students arrive at the high school level, they have caught on to the con. They know there's nothing of any importance to them riding on this aimless exercise in baloney bubbling.

All of this is why, throughout the modern reform era, we have seen a cottage industry in testing pep rallies and testing pep videos and chirpy songs with new lyrics about how [insert your school here] is just the most awesome school that is going to be so awesome with its awesome results on the awesome test. You can watch them by the hundreds on youtube, each one a well-scrubbed American version of a Hitler youth meeting or a Chinese Communist political rally-- just instead of honoring our Beloved Leader, we bow down to the BS Test instead.

This year, the winner of the test-prep excess award is Eva Moskowitz, whose Success Academy has rented Radio City Music Hall for the annual "Slam the Exam So We Can Generate Good Numbers for Our Marketing Rally." RCMH has reportedly cut Moskowitz a deal on the price but it's still worth noting that, as with SA's school bus lobbying trips to the state capital, these are your tax dollars at work. Congratulations, New Yorkers.

Meanwhile, schools and districts around the country are rolling out this year's batch of "incentives," including parties that you can only attend if you have been in school for all the testing days. Peggy Robertson reports these kinds of shenanigans from Colorado, where incentives and punishments are tied to the test even though it is clearly against the law to do so. Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post reports a New Jersey district that offered bonus points and gift cards for participation in the test-a-palooza (parents forced the school to drop it).

There could not be a more bald-faced admission that the Big Standardized Test is a waste of everyone's time. Bribery is the last resort of people who can't come up with any conceivable convincing reason that anyone should comply with their demands. You don't bribe people to do something when they can already see a perfectly good reason to do it.

In fact, you don't bribe people when you know there's a good reason for participating. We don't (usually) offer bribes to students to come to school and get an education because we understand that such a move devalues the education. It would be an admission that there is no benefit to students in attending and learning. We also understand that while we could bribe them to show up, that would not in any way guarantee that they would actually try once they got here. So the test-related bribery not only acknowledges that the BS Tests are a waste of time, but it guarantees that the test results don't even represent the real effort of the students.

It's almost as if some folks are so interested in selling the product that they don't even care if the people who buy it actually get any use out of it.

All of this also underlines one other thing-- how remarkable it is that the opt out movement flourishes even though nobody is offering families bribes to skip the test.

But the very worst of this whole mess? The very worst will be that for many students, even students who don't care about the BS Test and will not be compelled, pepped, cajoled or otherwise brought to love the test-- even those students will absorb the lesson that the BS Test is the be-all and end-all of school, that school is at its very heart a pointless exercise having nothing to do with actual education, but focused only on this mindless pointless exercise. And that crushing of faith and interest in education itself is the very worst side-effect of all.


  1. My bright, math and physics-loving high school son took the PARCC test. When I received the results, I was shocked to find that he was deficient in math, his favorite subject. After fuming that the test was useless and didn't correlate at all with what I knew to be his strongest subject, I asked him about it. He said that his friends pretty much knew the test was useless and filled it out without really looking at it. We both got a good laugh, I gave him a high five, and then shredded it up and tossed it in the bottom of our guinea pig's cage...

  2. The sentiment you express in your last two paragraphs is exactly what started me on my odyssey of writing seven years ago. Now finished and on the way to publication, "Naked Teaching: A Love Story" was conceived in the rage and helplessness so many of us feel as the testing season and associated money grabbing annihilation of learning starts in March of each year. Thank you for speaking truth to power!!!