While We Were Testing

Three years ago, top-level executives, company presidents, and other fancy-titled stakeholders from across the testing industry gathered in Minneapolis for a four-day conference, sponsored by the Council for Chief State School Officers (financed handsomely by the Gates Foundation), as well as all the big names in the educational testing industry – including Pearson, McGraw-Hill CTB, Measured Progress, AIR, DRC, and Questar.

Their first night in Minnesota, the executives dined on steak and sushi at a restaurant called Seven, before embarking on four days of presentations on things like “learning progressions,” “readiness,” and “growth models” – all meant to reinvent the wheel of the teaching profession for profit.

(I picture them throwing around the words “formative assessment” and “instructional practice” with great zeal, as if they had invented these concepts – not knowing, of course, that this is what teachers do each day in very simple, inexpensive ways, nor how dismally little their “progress monitoring” tools tell us about the students with whom we spend our days.)

Throughout the conference, executives were in high spirits, as they knew something that the rest of us didn’t.

They knew that a shift was coming: that the “end of the big test” was near, and that a new era of “formative,” personalized, competency-based testing – testing so all encompassing and so much a part of every day curricula that students (and parents) might not even know it was happening – was on the horizon.

Those at the top, of course, also knew that the new ESEA rewrites would support this shift.  They knew that foundations like KnowledgeWorks  and, of course, the Council for Chief State School Officers, were already working closely with legislators to include incentives for states to shift to competency-based testing.

It was no secret they had the federal government on their side. Here is a description from one conference session, led by the Smarter Balanced Consortium:

The Federal Government’s strategy to transform the Education Assessment industry by investing in standard technology platforms led by multi-state consortia such as Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has required unprecedented collaboration among consortia members, SEA and LEA representatives, assessment companies and the greater IT vendor community.

Pause. It is time for a cat face.




The fact is, the state-led testing consortia , which promised to use our tax money to bring us high quality tests that would get our kids “college and career ready”, were actually business consortia, strategically formed to collaborate on “interoperability frameworks” – or, to use simpler terms, ways of passing data and testing content from one locale to the next (from Pearson to Questar, for example, or from your local town to the feds).

Just as the Common Core State Standards were intended to unleash a common market, so, too, was the effort to create a common digital “architecture” that would allow companies like Questar and Pearson and Measured Progress and all the rest to operate in a “plug in play” fashion. (Think of Xbox, Nintendo, PlayStation, and all the rest teaming up to make a super-video-game console.)

Has your state pulled out of PARCC or SBAC? If so, which of these companies has it been replaced with?

In New York, it is Questar, whose advertisements fill the pages of the program for the 2012 conference. In Maine, it is Measured Progress, which participated behind the scenes in a “Smarter Balanced Proficiency-Based Task Force” in order to synch our next test with our new, Gates-funded proficiency-based diploma mandate.

Indeed, it has all been an effort to “unbundle billions,” if I may use the words of Tom Vander Ark (who was, it should be no surprise, present at the conference).

And now, of course, the federal government, with its sham of a recent testing reduction announcement and the impending reauthorization of ESEA, is about to do its part in this transformation, which will no doubt send the executives back to the restaurants for more steak and sushi.

And while they find ways to get their programs to do all the things teachers can already do infinitely better than their algorithms, and while they send their kids to private schools to avoid the mess they have made, the rest of us – if they have their way – will be contending with a corporatized, gamified, junk educational system that we will pay for with our tax dollars.

Enter cat face.



Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

12 thoughts on “While We Were Testing”

  1. This is EXCELLENT Emily!! You are incredible! I look forward to your articles because they are always spot on. It sickens me what is happening in our schools. It’s deeply disturbing this scam is allowed to continue. I’m sad for my daughter and all the kids who this is harming. Thank you Emily!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And it isn’t going to work. “Ooh look,Miss, I am competent at pairs of linear equations. Now I can forget all about them.”
    Not only that, there just isn’t the talent out there in the EdTech world to create the systems that will fulfill their wishful thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

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