7 Hidden Truths of Testing, #6: Testing Materials are Top Secret

DSC00496By James Comans

Welcome back to “7 Hidden Truths of Testing.”
Last time, we discussed the negative impact the modern testing culture is having on teacher health.

Today: What’s going on between your child and that computer screen?

Hidden Truth #6: Testing materials are Top Secret. 

We’ve talked about lots of hidden truths of testing so far. There’s threats to learning, health, the well-being of children, but nothing so far is as scary and 1984ish as the shroud of secrecy over modern testing.  You see- There’s this pesky fact that your child’s teachers aren’t allowed to see what ends up on the test. Not during, not after, not ever.

You’d think that’d be a helpful way for us to improve our instruction, wouldn’t you? For us to be able to sit down with the tests our students took, see what they did right and wrong, and learn how to better correct students’ misunderstandings so everybody improves?

Yeah. No dice. We never get any feedback from standardized tests.

bigstock-Blindfold-businessman-reading-85181729An example: Once upon a time, I taught 7th grade English, and my students took the state writing test. The testing company wasn’t going to reuse the writing prompts, and those kids would never have to take that test again. Plus, the state was constantly trying to figure out how to increase 7th grade writing scores.  Feedback would have been invaluable- to see the writing samples- to see what my students wrote and figure out why they got the scores they got.  I would actually be able to improve my instruction for the next year.  But for the corporation making a business out of selling that test to the state, that was too much to ask.

In addition, we teachers cannot monitor any communication between your child and these testing corporations. They present material for your child to read, they elicit responses, and your child’s teachers and administrators never get to see what’s being said back and forth. I’m no conspiracy theorist. I happen to believe the testing companies just keep everything locked up tight to protect their investments. But I’d just like to lay these cards out on the table:

  • These are national, multi-million dollar testing corporations.
  • One purpose of all this testing is to enforce the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
  • The reading tests present required reading material for every child in Mississippi. (Mississippi does not currently allow or recognize “opting out”).
  • Based on the responses of the children, the corporations assign scores and decide how well Mississippi is doing implementing Common Core.
  • No teacher or administrator working in Mississippi schools is allowed to see test materials or student responses.

A little cute kid with a laptop isolated, shocked faceScared yet?!

Ok, calm down, calm down. The truth is somewhere in between terrifying and happy-go-lucky.  But that was a fun exercise, wasn’t it? In truth, the corporations usually do allow some sort of review from some small board of  educators who aren’t currently working in schools (Who knows with Questar, though. They’re mysterious).

Also, teachers aren’t supposed to look over children’s shoulders and see anything on the screen, but most do anyway. I haven’t heard of any red flags being raised as to questionable content, but then again, we don’t really get to read everything.

As Denzel Washington said in Training Day, “You never know. That’s the point.”

When it comes to accuracy and honesty in testing, an outsider might think decision makers in Mississippi trust out-of-state corporations more than Mississippi teachers!


Well, that’s all for today. Join me for tomorrow’s conclusion of this series, when we pull back to see the overall impact the modern testing culture has on Mississippi education.

James Comans is an 8th grade science teacher in Southaven and contributor to MSEdBlog. His views are his own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

One thought on “7 Hidden Truths of Testing, #6: Testing Materials are Top Secret

  1. Pingback: Mississippi Education Blog | 7 Hidden Truths of Testing, #5: It’s Creating a Public Health Crisis

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