This Big Standardized Test Just Gave Teachers Another Reason to Loathe It

An anonymous teacher questioned the developmental appropriateness of one of the biggest Common-Core–aligned assessments. 


By one measure, the PARCC test is having a banner week: A new study commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Education just found a strong correlation between a proficient score on the Common Core-aligned tests and that slippery goal of “college readiness.”* But as testing season winds down, the PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, has also gotten itself embroiled in a PR mess.

Here’s what happened. Earlier this month, Celia Oyler, a professor at the Teachers College of Columbia University, ran a blog post by an anonymous public-school teacher that contained off-limits excerpts from this year’s PARCC exam. The point of the post, “The PARCC Test: Exposed,” was to highlight examples of how “developmentally inappropriate” the test was—asking fourth-grade students to respond to texts that were “equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark.” Another example shows a big disconnect between the test and the Common Core standards it’s meant to assess.

This is not the first time these tests have come under fire for developmental inappropriateness and/or downright bizarreness, according to an illuminating USA Today piece on PARCC–gate:

[I]n one incident in 2012, students piloting a Common Core reading test complained about a baffling question involving a talking pineapple who challenges a hare to a race, only to lose and be eaten by the other animals. One suburban New York principal noted that the question had been used before and “confused students in six or seven different states.”

In the blog post, which contained three different essay prompts for fourth graders, the unnamed teacher admitted that “revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone” violated the terms of a form she’d signed. While the questions reproduced aren’t exactly talking-pineapple grade, their convolutions do a good job of illustrating criticisms about the PARCC, which was once administered in 24 states and is now only used in eight.

Nearly a week after the post went up, after it made the rounds on social media, Oyler received an email from the CEO of PARCC threatening legal action unless she removed the three copyright-protected excerpts—and shared any information she had about the recalcitrant teacher. Oyler immediately took down the test questions and told PARCC that she’d received the blog post anonymously, therefore couldn’t dish.

That should be the end of the story, except teachers all over the country have come to the defense of the anonymous blogger, criticizing PARCC for its already well-known policing of social media for similar “security breaches.” Other bloggers, to show their support, have kept the original blog post up intact (though some have removed it after receiving similar copyright-violation missives from PARCC) and encouraged others to share it.

Who’s right? Sharing test questions while the test is still being administered—it’s obvious why the test-makers wouldn’t like that.* Threatening legal action to have content removed from the Internet—the strong-arming is probably a little much given that almost half the U.S. teachers polled in a major survey say they’d leave the profession for a better-paying job. At a time when standardized tests, and our whole testing culture, have become a source of such high-pitched debate for educators, students, and parents, is PARCC really doing itself any favors by treating its test content like the nuclear launch codes and encouraging teachers to narc on one another?

Correction, May 19: This article originally misidentified Pearson as the owner of the PARCC tests. The tests are run by the nonprofit PARCC Inc. The headline has also been changed to reflect this fact.