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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The PARCC censorship controversy, and what the NY Times left out



Update: For more on this controversy, see today's NY Times, which sadly omits mention of the Fair Use exception to the copyright law, and quotes  Michael Petrilli, who claims that "most states are not using test results for teacher evaluations or school quality judgements."  Really?  He also says that the PARCC exams are of "exceptionally high quality."  If this is true -- and there are many who disagree -- then PARCC should be obligated to release their entire exams and not attempt to evade scrutiny.   

The NYT article also omits mentioning how unusual it is to expect to keep the items on a national test secret that is given to millions of students over the course of a lengthy testing window, which for PARCC lasts more than three months --March 7 to June 10 .  In fact, according to an authoritative source, the College Board changes the questions on the SAT  when it's administered on the West coast from the East coast version --because they assume the questions will be shared within that three hour period.

Finally, the NYT links to my blog post, one of the few (?) that still remains up, complete with the PARCC questions.  So you should check it out if you haven't already --- because the post will likely be taken down by Blogger by tomorrow.

See also articles in Slate, USA Today, the Progressive, Washington Post Answer Sheet, and by bloggers Peter Greene, Mercedes Schneider, Daniel Katz and Diane Ravitch, who discovered that her own blog on the PARCC was deleted overnight without warning.


On May 7, Celia Oyler, a professor at Teachers College, posted a column by an anonymous teacher critiquing the 4th grade PARCC exam, as featuring three reading prompts that were  grades higher than the recommended benchmark, and asking questions that were not even aligned to the Common Core standards in that grade.  

Professor Oyler subsequently received a warning letter on May 12 from the CEO of PARCC, Laura Slover, which threatened her with legal action unless she removed the post, claiming it violated their copyright, and demanded that she also disclose the name of the teacher who wrote the column.
She promptly deleted the excerpts from the exam, and renamed the post, The PARCC Test: Exposed [excerpts deleted under legal threat from Parcc]

Others who had tweeted links to Celia’s blog, including me, had their tweets deleted, following complaints by PARCC to Twitter that these tweets had also somehow violated their copyright.  I was annoyed but then when I heard about the PARCC letter to Celia, I reprinted the original post on my  blog on May 14, along with the excerpts of the 4th grade exam, and urged other bloggers to do the same as “an act of collective disobedience to the reigning testocracy.”  

Critical to my outreach efforts was the Education Bloggers Network, a collection of more than 200 grassroots bloggers, managed by Jonathan Pelto , who communicate with each other in order to become better informed and expand their reach.  Few if any of these bloggers, mostly parents and teachers, get paid for their efforts but they see their role as critical in fighting back corporate reform, unmasking propaganda, and advocating for real improvements to strengthen our public schools. [Jonathan is reliant on individual contributions to keep his work going, please consider making a donation here.]

Then, one by one, many of these bloggers had their posts with PARCC excerpts deleted, sometimes without even receiving explanatory emails. You can see many of these deletions listed on the  Lumen website,  showing 27 takedown notices from Twitter and Google (owner of Blogger) between May 12 and May 16, 2016, all claiming copyright violations.  

PARCC put out a press release, arguing their position; yet many bloggers, including  Julian Vasquez Heilig  and  Anthony Cody, have pointed out that it is impossible  to critique an exam without featuring some of the questions, and thus should be allowed under the Fair Use exception to the copyright law.  

As Anthony wrote, “Just as we needed to read the question about the talking pineapple to understand how lousy it was, we must be able to discuss and criticize the content of the PARCC test. These are not sacred texts. They ARE, however, being used to make Godlike judgments about children and teachers, with potentially life-altering or career-ending consequences.” 

What's the next chapter in this saga?  Stay tuned, for possible legal challenges if PARCC continues its attempt to evade accountability for the flawed nature of these exams through censoring any critiques that contain excerpts from the exam.

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