Product Placement on State ELA Test?

While teachers might not be able to review and discuss the tests, it’s near impossible to stop adolescents from criticizing something when they have a strong reaction. Remember when the students blew the whistle on the ridiculous use of the Pineapple story, posting on social media about it, to the point that the press and the state responded? Well, this year, my students shared with me their concerns over another unsettling, though less absurd matter: product placement in the reading passages.

Recently there has been a lot of criticism of the “gag rule” imposed on teachers in relation to standardized tests. I wrote about this last year (When Confidentiality Inhibits Problem-Solving) and in 2012 (Why Must We Keep Quiet About the Test?), and this year the AFT has asked Pearson to stop requiring teacher silence. While teachers might not be able to review and discuss the tests, it’s near impossible to stop adolescents from criticizing something when they have a strong reaction. Remember when the students blew the whistle on the ridiculous use of the Pineapple story, posting on social media about it, to the point that the press and the state responded? Well, this year, my students shared with me their concerns over another unsettling, though less absurd matter: product placement in the reading passages.

After Day 1 of the NY state ELA test, I asked my first class of students how it had gone for them. This is a temperature check, a form of informal feedback for me. Students shared the usual variety of responses–it was easy, it was hard, it was too long, it was just fine, it was boring, it was not as boring as they expected…

Then one girl said, resolutely, “I thought it was disgusting.”

Not about to let her off the hook with such a statement without explanation, I asked her what she meant. “It was full of advertisements,” she elaborated, to my surprise.

“Was it?” I asked.

“Yes, the passages kept mentioning brand names like sodas and stuff. I couldn’t believe it! It was totally disgusting.” There was a murmur from other students.

Another student added, “Yeah, I noticed that too. It was weird. Why did they add all those brands?” I couldn’t answer, of course.

This same complaint came up in three out of four of my classes. “I thought it was like a big advertisement,” a student in the next class said, unprompted. Students offered details on the specific brands that were mentioned in the testing passages, which I won’t repeat here.

I simply want to ask, what is going on?!

Who decided it was ethical to allow a for-profit company, already paid for their work, to shout out commercial brands to millions of children in our public schools through obligatory testing?

How do students benefit from that? Who, outside of Pearson, reviews these tests to make sure they are appropriate? If teachers cannot review and discuss the content of these tests–and I hope that changes soon–what checks and balances arein place to ensure the credibility of these assessments?

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