Friday, April 24, 2015

We Demand An Investigation Into Pearson Tests

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
Office of the Attorney General
The Capitol
Albany, NY   12224-0341

Dear Attorney General:

I am writing to demand an investigation into the Pearson-created standardized tests that are being given to New York State children in Grades 3-8.  As you know, the tests are paid for with tax money, through a contract negotiated with New York State.  The tests are designed to fail students, with questions that are written beyond grade level, ambiguous “equally plausible” answer choices that would confound even an adult, and developmentally inappropriate vocabulary and reading texts.  Mr. Attorney General, do you know what “plinth” means?  Because that was one of the vocabulary words on the sixth grade ELA, along with the words ephemeral, paroxysm, clamorous, tutelage, furlong, absconders, and surmised.  Equally difficult vocabulary was noted on the ELA for other grade levels, along with archaic text passages that are grade levels beyond the students ability or interest.

Last week, Dr. Roy F. Sullivan, Carol A. Sullivan, M.S., and Rebecca F. Cooper, Au.D., of P-O-S-E, published a comparison study of the ELA assessments that were given to Mineola.  I quote:  “Findings reveal significant issues with face validity of the NYS ELA examination as currently implemented. NYS ELA test passages for Grades 3 and 4 in 2013 and 2014 present an exaggerated range of grade-inappropriate reading levels effectively rendering invalid any test questions based on these passages.  Reading levels for NYS-released 2014 Grade 3 passages were well above grade level, well above the level for 2013 Grade 3 passages and even higher than Grade 4 passages for 2013.”!report-why-ela-is-invalid-unreliable-/cx6r

We are now hearing reports from parents and teachers that children were crying throughout both the ELA test and the Math test this year.  An anonymous Facebook poster remarked that the “fifth grade exam was like a borderline Regents exam” and another that “the Grade 3 math exam was akin to a middle school math exam.”  Children are being traumatized by these exams that are failing 70% of our students, lowering their self-confidence for learning and instilling test anxiety that could become a serious handicap to them in the future. 

The exams are rife with errors.  On the ELA, one of the exam questions misnamed a character, confusing students because it was not applicable to the passage.  On the Russian version of the math exam, passages were written in Korean.  And those are only the errors we know about.  Gag orders and secrecy surrounding the tests makes it impossible to identify all of the mistakes and errors within the exams.

There is little to no transparency on these exams.  When information on questions is “leaked,” (as happened with the “Pineapple and the Hare” question years ago, when the nonsensical question created a tidal wave of complaints), there is no response and no remediation or adaptive improvement by Pearson or State Ed of the test questions on future tests.  The difficulty of these exam questions has been at a level grades beyond student age/developmental abilities for three years, and protests have been made, but the tests continue to be as difficult or more difficult for students, year after year.  Many of the questions ask for abstract thinking processes, a cognitive ability that does not develop until the average age of 12.  One can only make the conclusion that Pearson and/or NYSED wants children to fail these tests.

I have also heard that the cut scores are set after the tests are graded, guaranteeing a failure rate that the state chooses.  Surely that must be an unethical practice.  In addition, if students, parents, and teachers are never allowed to see most of the questions on these tests, then how are teachers to appeal “ineffective” or “developing” teacher ratings based on the tests?

At least one of the 2015 ELA tests featured a text and questions that also appeared in a Pearson test preparation book, giving an unfair advantage to schools that could afford to purchase Pearson products.  This has also happened on previous tests.  Again, complaints fell on deaf ears.

I am requesting that you conduct an investigation into the Pearson tests.  You could start by giving the exams to adults.  I have no doubt that they will have problems with many of the questions.  The paying for faulty tests that are clearly designed to fail our children and thereby fire our teachers, is an unethical fraud perpetrated on the children of taxpaying NYS citizens, and deserves your attention.

I look forward to hearing from you,

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