A Request to Make New York State Standardized Tests Public!!

Dear Commons Community,

There is an interesting piece in the New York Times education website from John Albin, a parent of a school-age child and  the director of purchasing and contracts at Hunter College of the City University of New York, who is formally requesting access to New York State’s standardized tests under FOIL (Freedom of Information Law).  His rationales are that as a parent and a taxpayer he has a right to know about the assessments being used to judge his child’s performance and also how the state is spending his money. He expresses his concern as:

“The debates surrounding high-stakes testing also capture my attention because of my career history: I started out in educational publishing and moved on to public administration, spending much of the last 20 years on performance metrics, accountability and contracting.

So as word began to leak out about pineapple-gate and the other testing gaffes, I started poring over news accounts, editorials and public commentary from educators.

I learned that the tests themselves are being kept secret because the state Department of Education and Pearson, their test development contractor, wrote strong confidentiality provisions into the contract. My understanding is that this was so that they both could reuse test questions in the future. In order for the questions to be reusable, they have to be kept secret, otherwise students could prep too easily for the tests, and Pearson’s other customers would be able to get the tests from the public domain.

We only know about the gaffes because students exposed them. Educators have been sworn to secrecy. The Education Department has emphasized their concerns about test prep, but to me the secrecy seems rooted in economics: Secrecy saves New York on future test development costs and makes it easier for Pearson to re-sell the questions it created for New York (at New York taxpayers’ expense) in other states. “

I would add that since school policy makers and politicians such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg have gone to great efforts to demand public disclosure of public school teacher evaluations, it is only fitting that the public also know the instruments being used to evaluate teachers – talking pineapples and all.  Go for it for John!!



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