Saturday, May 4, 2013

A weapon of mass distraction

A Weapon of Mass Distraction
Stephen Krashen

PARCC* is now inviting us to review performance level descriptions and an “accommodation” manual” to help them develop more tests (

As usual, we are not invited to discuss whether we need these tests. For those who haven't been paying attention, the US Department of Education, through PARCC, is planning to impose more testing than has ever been seen on this planet, far more than is helpful or necessary.

Those who accept the invitation to discuss performance level descriptions and the accommodation manual will have the impression they have a seat at the table. In reality, these kinds of invitations are a means of control, diverting attention from the real issues.

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum … That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate" (N. Chomsky, The Common Good, p. 42, 2002)

The problem in American education is not a lack of appropriate tests. The problem is poverty. Our students from middle-class families who attend well-funded schools score at the top of the world on international tests, and when poverty is controlled statistically, American students rank near the top of the world.

The US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries. If all our children were protected from the effects of poverty our overall international test scores would be spectacular.

Poverty means little health care, poor nutrition and little access to books and has a devastating effect on school achievement. The best teaching is ineffective when children are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read. The impact of poverty could be profoundly reduced if we invested more on food programs, health care, and libraries, instead of on useless standards and tests.

We have been told not to worry about these things but support the movement to invest instead in more testing, and to debate whether the proposed rubrics for the fourth-grade writing assessment are appropriate.

Susan Ohanian notes that issuing standards is like presenting menus to starving people. Now PARCC is inviting us to discuss what should be on the menu.

“PARCC is an alliance of states working together to develop common assessments serving nearly 24 million students.”

1 comment:

  1. We just did the PARCC field test for the 4th grade social studies test today. It took about 45 minutes to get everyone online and deal with all technical glitches. Once in, it took about an hour to an hour and a half to finish the test. From what I saw, the questions asked were fine, a lot more higher order thinking skills than previous tests. If we're going to this kind of test, then we need to drop a lot of the reading curriculum we currently use which does nothing to foster higher order thinking skills.