"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

PARCC and Pearson's Failure Production Machine

When I was an English major in the late 1960s, I was immersed in the late stages of the New Criticism, a literary theory that tried to examine a work of literature based on formal structural elements that bracketed authorial intent or social milieu.  

The New Criticism was a neo-Platonic concept based on the shaky premise that literary value can be ascertained without the messy issues that arise when we examine literature as a reflection of the human condition or as a cultural artifact with some significance for understanding the world we occupy as sentient beings.

A generation and a half after I graduated from college the old New Criticism was rediscovered by another set of narrow-lapeled and socially-removed corporate intellectuals, some of whom (David Coleman included) were to become the authors of the new curriculum that has earned the toxic moniker of Common Core.  Who knew that fourth graders would soon be charged with what we were trying to do with the New Criticism in the 60s,  as we scribbled into our blue books while chain smoking at our skinny classroom armchairs at Austin Peay State U.

In New Jersey and Delaware, assessing progress on the Common Core is handled by Pearson, the international mega-corporation that sells the tests, testing software, test prep materials, professional development units, computer tutorials, etc.  

Pearson's first task as the vendor or record is to show that there is a serious problem in need of their solutions, which are shrink-wrapped on pallets in huge warehouses ready to ship to the four corners of the nation and beyond.  

Fortunately for us, teachers in New Jersey and Delaware are working together to expose the fraud.  A clip below.  Please do read on:

Since I’m in Delaware, I couldn’t reveal my signed obligations… But someone in New Jersey can… And likewise, I can reveal questions off the PAARC in New Jersey, whereas no teacher in New Jersey can…..

And it is all legal.  Neither of us violated our signed statements.

Here is what every parent needs to know is on the PAARC for fourth grade.

On the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from [material] at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y using the Fountas and Pinnell scale.

However Common Core standards dictate a student should be at level S on this scale by the end of 4th Grade.  The reading material on this test is therefore two grades advanced of the level of stressed teaching recommend even by Common Core. 

Since by Common Core itself, the Lexile measure of 1020 is for grades 6-8….. so why is Pearson putting this in a test to be taken by 9 year olds?

Right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. (Which, duh, is why we are telling every single parent to opt out of this test!!! )

“After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers all of which appear to be correct except for some technicality.”

Finally students combine a series of these two-year advanced texts, and write an essay based on prompts.  The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts….

[In some questions, students were clearly asked to do more than is asked for in the standards, which are too demanding to begin with.]


Common Core standard RL.4.5“Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

Nowhere does it say children should be comparing the structural elements between a passage and poem.  This is something most all adults would fail as well, since the entire ELA lexicon has changed since they were in school. Structures have completely different names now.

So why is Pearson putting this in the PAARC for fourth graders, age 9 years?

The answer:  to drive scores lower so they can sell book on how to improve your child’s score.

The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures, called the New Criticism, is a literary theory that dominated American literary criticism in the middle decades of the 20th century, and has since been left there.  So why are we making children perform what professors forced on their college students in 1950? . . .

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