Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bribing for PARCC

Since the days that No Child Left Untested Behind first mandated the Big Standardized Test, teachers and administrators who work in actual schools have recognized the problems inherent in trying to get useful data out of a test that students don't care about.

When they're still in elementary school, students can still be nudged along by school pride and a desire to make their teacher proud. A few pep rallies, maybe a super-cool video on youtube, and they'll plunge bravely ahead just because their school wants them to.

But by middle school, aka the years in which tweens discover that everything in life sucks, students have figured it out. The BS Test is boring and stupid and doesn't actually matter and  neither does stupid old Mrs. Ipswitch who is so absolutely not the boss of me. In other words, I think there's a reason that many schools report a dip in eighth grade BS Test scores, and I don't think it has anything to do with the actual quality of education.

Schools, however, depending on the state, need students to produce those scores. This is one of the huge problems of test-centered "accountability"-- it flips a school upside down, and instead of the school existing to provide students with an education, the students now exist to provide the school with good scores.

And what better way to formalize this new relationship then to really double down on treating the students like employees-- and pay them for their work.

Here's Mesa Alta Junior High School in New Mexico doing just that-- students who scored high on the PARCC for MAJ were paid $100 for their efforts on behalf of the school.

The local paper reported on this as if it was a heartwarming tale of general swellness, and not, say, a fairly blatant admission that the tests do not actually have any intrinsic value for students. And if you want to tell me that obviously these students are not being treated like school employees, well, then, there's only one other thing to call the $100 payment.

A bribe.

I don't offer you $100 to kiss your loved ones or feed your children or wash your hair in the morning or eat food. I don't do it because these things have intrinsic value; they matter on their own, and come with their own rewards packed inside. Bribes are for when we need to nudge someone to perform a task that has otherwise has no value to them.

Worse, if you bribe me to kiss my spouse, I may wonder why I'm not being paid to kiss my kids. If my focus is on external rewards, I may never even see the intrinsic rewards that crop up in my path daily.

This is where we are with the BS Tests. We've thrown up our hands and admitted there's no reason to try to do well on them unless someone offers you cold, hard cash. We've tried (and continue trying) to game the system with all sorts of test prep, so why not fall back on the oldest system gaming technique of all-- bribery. Other than, of course, having to face the Kafkaesque slow death of the soul that comes with realizing that we are perpetuating and feeding a system that serves nobody. Well, except for some middle school kids who get some extra spending money.


  1. Fresh from the headlines of the Baltimore Sun today....Less than half of MD students pass english, math assessments. Boy, that's saying a lot about the wonderful Common Bore Curriculum and that super duper CCRAP test. I'm sure Finn, Smarick and Petrelli will be chiming in soon about how we have to get on board with CBL and more test prep from Pearson so that we can bring those scores up to snuff. Can't wait to see what's in store for my kids....homeschooling high schoolers is NOT what I envisioned, but it may become a necessity. My kids don't take the BS test...only the Alg I and ELA 10 because they are grad requirements in the state of MD.

  2. "In addition to Jaques' challenge, the school decided in March to create an incentive program that would encourage the students to take the test seriously. Students who scored proficient or advanced and students whose scores improved by 10 points last year could win prizes. DJ's Pizza, Ace Hardware, Bloomfield Super Lube, Citizen's Bank, Kare Pharmacy, Panda Garden, Serious Texas Barbecue and Domino's Pizza provided prizes for the students."

    Gee Mom, if I score proficient on my PARCC test we get a free oil change from Super Lube!"

    I'd be so proud of you Johnny, I know you can do it. But that fall back rib prize is nothing to sneeze at.

  3. This observation cannot be repeated often enough: ". . . instead of the school existing to provide students with an education, the students now exist to provide the school with good scores." This state of affairs is the necessary and inevitable outcome of the system we have put in place in recent decades. How can this realization elude people with a modicum of common sense? And how many people can be so malevolent as to desire that outcome?

  4. High school kids are even more jaded, especially in the inner city. Many bubble one row, straight down, then take a nap. After all, if they didn't try, then they can't have failed. It's self-preservation.

  5. So then it follows, doesn't it, that any "reward" is just a bribe? Even if it's just trinkets from the school store for "good" behavior? The old joke, of course:

    "Would you sleep with me for $1,000,000?"

    "Hell yeah!"

    "Would you sleep with me for $10?"

    "What do you think I am?!"

    "We've established what you are. Now we're just negotiating the price."

  6. I have often wondered why I haven't seen more of this written about. Kids absolutely do not care about these tests because they have no skin in the game. Their grades do not depend on these results, nor does their eligibility for graduation. The results that are being "read" from these are so distorted because of this that they are worthless. I teach high school.