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Another scandal – charter propaganda on the test

Ohanian Comment: I am very grateful for the work done by parent activists--work that unions and educator professional organizations should be doing.

Modest proposal: Maybe we should add a 3rd suggestion to Julie Woestehoff's fine suggestions: Make test writers certify that their test items labeled "non-fiction" are not fish stories and/or propaganda traveling in cammouglage.

by Julie Woestehoff

Today, with some help from me, Chicago Sun-Times education reporter Rosalind Rossi exposes yet another standardized testing scandal, this one on a Scantron test that was used several times in the Chicago Public Schools as part of an interim, or benchmark, reading assessment.

Scantron is a national standardized test that CPS has been using for a couple of years as a computerized replacement for the quarterly Learning First and Benchmark Assessment tests. These tests cover a narrow set of skills and are essentially practice tests for the annual Illinois Standards Assessment Tests (ISAT). This is the last year for Scantron; next year it will be replaced by the NWEA, the NorthWest Evaluation Association tests.

I acquired the screenshot of this reading passage, which makes about as much sense as a talking pineapple.

Is it supposed to be non-fiction? If so, then who the h&## is multimillionaire Charles Mendel? I'll give a dollar to the first person who can find a real such guy on Google.

We know it's not factual, anyway. Charter schools are NOT "open to all students." They are NOT "showing improvement in student achievement" and they are NOT "playing an important role" in reforming education across the country unless by "reforming" you mean "destroying."

I sent this letter to Scantron President John Lawler, which said in part:

Parents United for Responsible Education has learned that recent administrations of the Scantron Performance Series exams in the Chicago Public Schools included reading comprehension questions based on a passage titled "Reforming Education: Charter Schooling."

This passage contains propagandistic, pro-charter school statements that are misleading and in some cases false. For such statements to be used on tests given to non-charter school students is irresponsible at best. Students taking a test should not be subjected to false claims about charter schools which could cause them to feel humiliated, second-class or dumb because they do not attend a "better" charter school. Standardized tests should not be used as an opportunity to brainwash students with propaganda about charter schools or any other strategy of the corporate school reform camp.

We demand that this passage be removed from any future Scantron tests and that an apology be issued to all Chicago Public school students whose tests included this passage.

I did not hear back from Mr. Lawler, but I received this response to a similar message I sent to Corporate Spokesperson Donna Hinkelman:

Dear Ms. Woestehoff,

Thank you for your email of May 9 (copy below). In response, I wanted to confirm that the passage you referenced was part of the Performance Series exam; its purpose was to test critical thinking skills of 7th grade level students. It was not intended to be a comprehensive statement about the state of charter schools in Chicago or the nation, nor a slight of public schools.

That said, we agree that the copy could be perceived as lacking sensitivity. We sincerely apologize for any upset it may have caused the Chicago Public Schools students who took this exam, their parents and your organizationâs members. That particular copy passage is being deleted from the Performance Series bank of questions effective this date.


Donna Hinkelman
Vice President, Corporate Communications
Harland Clarke Holdings Corp.

I sent this response back:

Dear Ms. Hinkelman--

Thank you for your response.

The problem with your solution -- simply removing this item from the
test -- is that it is just one of many, many problematic passages and
questions that turn up on students' tests. Because parents are generally
not allowed to review the questions after the tests, we are concerned
that there may be even more problems -- that this is just the tip of the
iceberg and our children are being exposed to many other questionable
passages in testing situations which are already stressful enough.

Here are two things the Scantron Corporation can do that would actually

1) Publish all test questions so that we can see the basis on which our
children are being evaluated.

2) Publicly support our national movement to allow parents to opt their
children out of any standardized test. No test should be so important
that a child should be forced to take it against his or her parents'

I would appreciate a response to these suggestions.

Thank you for your attention.

Julie Woestehoff

I never heard back from anyone at Scantron. But I wonder if this new bad publicity was at least one reason why Scantron just pulled their membership from ALEC?

by Diane Ravitch

A New Low in Standardized Testing
May 26, 2012

Scantron, the test publishing company, was compelled to delete a reading passage that was highly propagandistic after parent activists learned about it and called attention to it. The item was brought to the attention of the media by Parents United for Responsible Education.

The Chicago Sun-Time wrote: âPURE executive director Julie Woestehoff said the passage, titled "Reforming Education: Charter Schooling," is so one-sidedly pro-charter that its use amounts to an attempt to "brainwash" children 'with propaganda about charter schools.'"

The reading passage on the test was a paean to charter schools, with pie charts and bullet points, all intended to show that charters were decidedly superior to the public schools in which the test-taking students were enrolled. It even had the nerve to identify a presumably fictional "multimillionaire" who enrolled his own children in a charter school. It would be interesting to know if there are any real-life multi-millionaires who have done so. I guess that the folks who wrote the test passage didn't know that charters are supposed to be "saving" poor kids from failing schools, although not many of them do that.

The test question was presented as "non-fiction," but Scantron initially responded by saying it was fiction intended to test reading comprehension. Even Scantron eventually realized that the question was inappropriate. That is putting it mildly. The question was charter propaganda, intended to misinform students and persuade them that charters were proven better than public schools. That's not inappropriate, that's lies.

It may not be coincidental, but it's worth noting that Scantron was a corporate sponsor of ALEC. When the publicity about ALEC's role in the Trayvon Martin affair got too hot, Scantron was one of the corporations that withdrew from ALEC.

The fake charters-are-best question is an even bigger scandal than Pearsonâs pineapple question. The pineapple story (which by the way was given to Illinois students in the past) was at worst idiotic, not insidious. It was in some way typical of the sanitized, vacuous reading passages that often appear on standardized tests, which explains how it got past the test review panels that approve test content.

The charter question is far worse than the pineapple question. The pineapple question wasn't selling pineapples. It was not an advertisement for Dole or another corporation. The charter question was taking a one-sided stance on a matter of public policy. It was dishonest propaganda. It advanced a political cause and, in today's reality, it advanced the commercial interests of for-profit charter operators.

Do these people have no shame?

Rosalind Rossi
Chicago Sun-Times

'Brainwashing' passage cut from CPS scholastic test

A national testing company has ash-canned a reading passage that critics say subjected a captive audience of Chicago Public School children to pro-charter-school "brainwashing."

The Scantron Corporation took action this month after the head of Chicago's Parents United for Responsible Education demanded the company drop the passage and apologize to what could be thousands of Chicago students she said were forced to read it this school year and last.

PURE executive director Julie Woestehoff said the passage, titled "Reforming Education: Charter Schooling," is so one-sidedly pro-charter that its use amounts to an attempt to "brainwash" children "with propaganda about charter schools."

"Students taking a test should not be subjected to false claims about charter schools which could cause them to feel humiliated, second-class or dumb because they do not attend a 'better' charter school," Woestehoff said in a May 9 email of protest to Scantron.

Written in non-fiction style, with pie charts and bullet points, the passage flatly states that charter schools are "showing improvements in student achievement," even though several studies point to mixed results. In Chicago, charters have ignited pockets of fierce resistance.

The passage also states that the children of a "multimillionaire," named "Charles Mendel" attend a charter school because Mendel "believes that charter schools deliver the highest quality education."

— Julie Woestehoff., Diane Ravitch, & Rosalind Rossi
blogs and Chicago Sun-Times





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