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Snookered by Bill Gates and the U. S. Department of Education

Attention people who care about children in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

You’ve been snookered.

The truth of the matter is that we’ve all been snookered by the U. S. Department of Education, working in cahoots with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but the release of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium sample assessment items makes the flimflam obvious to people in the above states. Their leaders gave promissory notes to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

U. S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the new assessments will be “an absolute game changer in public education.” Translation: They’ll rob you blind, ruin your curriculum, and turn your children into test-taking drudges.

On Oct. 24, 2012, the Vermont State Department of Education issued an enthusiastic  press release trumpeting these sample test items. Acting as an echo chamber for the U. S. Department of Education, Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca says, “These sample items will provide Vermont teachers with an early look into the rigor and complexity students will see on the Smarter Balanced assessments.”

It’s sad to see an ed commissioner who actually has a lot of experience working in schools act as a megaphone to power, but certainly it’s no surprise that the U. S. Secretary of Education, a man with no teacher experience,  employs exclamation points to voice his enthusiasm for the new tests. After all, Arne Duncan is the one who handed out $361 million taxpayer dollars to the testing consortia: Smarter Balanced and PARCC. There are two to avoid accusations of politicos forcing a National Test on public education. By the way, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who financed the development of the Common Core as a delivery system for these tests and many millions to outfits ranging from the PTA to ASCD to promote it, kicked in another $743,331 “to support capacity building” at Smarter Balanced.

State Departments of Education across the country echo Vermont in  urging teachers to use these Smarter Balanced test items “to begin planning the shifts in instruction that will be required to help students meet the demands of the new assessments.” Bring on ugly, brain-numbing skill drill worksheets on apostrophe use.

Linda Darling Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University (which is well rewarded by the Gates Foundation) as well as senior research advisor for Smarter Balanced, said this: Performance tasks ask students to research and analyze information, weigh evidence, and solve problems relevant to the real world, allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in an authentic way. The Smarter Balanced assessment system uses performance tasks to measure skills valued by higher education and the workplace-critical thinking, problem solving, and communication-that are not adequately assessed by most statewide assessments today.

Indeed. I read the released items in English Language Arts/Literacy, and I wanted to vomit.

Smarter Balanced showed their capacity for coming up with new, innovative assessments by hiring CTB/McGraw-Hill to deliver 10,000 test items-bland passages with no authors and no voice-and lots of items requiring copy-editing skills. Now I  know why these Smarter Balanced released items look so familiar: CTB/McGraw-Hill has been selling this stuff since 1926.

I wrote the Smarter Balanced Help Desk, asking why they offered students so many items with no authors and no voice. They replied, “Authors write the items. For passages, internal authors write some of them and others require external permissions.” They invited me to ask any other questions I might have.

The “authors” are work-for-hire freelancers who aren’t allowed to exhibit personality. These Smarter Balanced items don’t qualify as fiction or non-fiction; they are simply test tommyrot. Putting such artificial passages on tests sends a terrible message to teachers, provoking the use of tons of workbook paragraphs-to get kids ready for an ugly test.

In addition to the antiquated copy-editing chores, Smarter Balanced ignores research on how children acquire new vocabulary and asks testees to use context clues to figure out the meaning of words. I summarized the research refuting this notion in a book chapter: Context Clues: Cure-All or Claptrap? Research shows that when students read for pleasure they experience multiple encounters with new words-and it’s those multiple encounters that result in significant vocabulary growth.

Twenty-five states have signed on to this boondoggle.

The examples of  “innovative, technology-enhanced items that take advantage of computer-based administration to assess a deeper understanding of content and skills” provided by Smarter Balanced are hilarious. Here’s one: Highlight the part of the text. . . . Highlighting as innovative technology? Should taxpayers in the Hendrick Hudson School District pay $1.5 million to upgrade their computers so students can highlight text on a test?

In math, the testee sees a silhouetted swimmer’s animated legs before getting to a question that requires rounding swimming times to the nearest 10th, something kids who know anything about racing know would never happen in the real world. In another problem, the testee is instructed to make use of technological innovation to drag a juice bottle into a grocery bag. The Main State Education Department calls this “innovative, technology-enhanced items that take advantage of computer-based administration to assess a deeper understanding of content and skills than would otherwise by possible with traditional item types.”

They are all drinking the Kool-Aid being passed around by Bill Gates.

Twenty-three states belong to the other testing consortium-Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which received $186 million of your tax dollars from the U. S. Department of Education as part of the Race to the Top scheme. A few states belong to both consortia and five states-Nebraska, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, and Virginia-belong to neither.

I hope people understand that this is much much more than just a quarrel over curriculum preference, but  I’ll get to the penultimate concern of the taxpayer: What does all this cost? After the initial infusion of cash from the U. S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top grants, the claim is that most states can expect to spend less on Smarter Balanced assessments than they do on current assessments. But even taking this claim with a truckload of salt doesn’t make it believable. According to an Oct. 28,2012 article in, the Hendrick Hudson School District estimates that it will cost “$1.5 million to upgrade its computers and infrastructure to comply with the Common Core mandates.” This is for the three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school attended by the 2,845 students in the Hendrick Hudson School district.

That’s just computer compliance-to get started.  Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, makes it clear that states that have signed on for the tests have agreed to pay annual administrative fees associated with the tests. Vermont school administrators were told recently to budget $300 per pupil for each year hereafter to buy the computer platforms to deliver the tests and other technology. That’s just the technology. Nothing said about administrative costs, test prep costs, test tutoring costs, and so on and so on.

There are 50 million schoolkids out there in K-12. You don’t need any innovative, technology-enhanced, computer-based highlighting to do the math. What you need is the grit and stamina to say “No!”

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About The Author

Susan Ohanian is a longtime teacher whose articles on education have appeared in publications ranging from Parents to The Nation. Her book One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards introduced the term "Standardisto." She has maintained a website of resistance since NCLB was signed into law in 2002:

Number of Entries : 15
  • Stef

    Best thing we can do to stop this madness? Opt our children out of all this testing. So sickening!!

    • weilunion

      Testing is one of the financial istruments being used to open up the six hundred billion dollar industry we now call Education, Inc. Of course denying critical thinkking opportunities to kids under the name of critical thinking is all part of the Orwellian present.
      But besides assuring kids get no opportunities to think, one must keep in mind capitalism and capital’s need to find profitable investments.
      Gates has leveraged his stolen swag with what he calls philanthropist funds, in an attempt to assure a steady flow of public funds, the plasma of the system; it is all a ruse to open up public education to countless products and services that will lay waste to education but that will be privately produced, distributed and controlled and publicly financed.
      Kids are just commodities now. If you are not in the school to prison pipeline then you will be under the panoptic glare the the testing machines.
      Soon the teachers themselves will be reduced to little more than call centers as technology redfines their ‘role’ in the educational production process.
      Financialiazation is the issue now, and education is a bright spot for capital along with virtual health care. Do not be fooled: all the standards are being pushed with an eye on Wall Street. they have nothing to do with kids.
      That corporate democrats like Linda Darling Hammond and others are selling kids out for the neo-feudal corporate monarchy should be of no surprise. They live behind the castle walls.

  • Susan Ohanian

    I applaud testing opt out but kids still face the numbing Common Core curriculum which is a year-long effort to prepare them for the tests.

  • Iaviator

    To cooperate is to be rewarded as Linda exemplifies… interesting how the “brand name” Stanfords and Harvards have representatives very willing to sell out public education.

  • ChristBurns2YearOlds

    Outsource Bill Gates, he is lazy and he has no current experience.

  • D. R. Cruickshank

    Thanks again Susan for speaking-up. I used to think, “This (emphasis on testing) too shall pass.” Of course, eventually consequences of excessive testing (diminished student interest in schooling, diminished interest in teaching, parental concerns, costs) will cause a re-focus on creating stimulating classroom learning environments. Unfortunately, there will have been lots of lost years for the kids between the onset of the testing fetish and the re-focus. In common educational parlance, “You get what you teach for” in this case, maybe somewhat better scores in select subjects on international tests. I think America’s schools should be focussed on more important matters with more payoff for kids and country such getting and keeping kids excited about learning.

    Don Cruickshank, Professor Emeritus
    Ohio State University

  • ZeeQue

    Don’t forget the cost to buy new curriculum materials, including textbooks, professional development, pre-test assessments and remedial materials for students who pre-test with low scores.

  • Edwin S. Clark

    I am amazed to live in a country with an educational elite that presume higher order thinking skills can be assessed by nationalized, multiple choice tests for public school children but are somehow unnecessary for private school children (usually their own).

  • iam

    All government now works like the Gates-Duncan alliance with hidden and not so hidden “partners” in the private sector calling the real shots. Hammond is symptomatic of the “partnership” between business and universities which has turned most high-profile scholarship into think-tank research.

  • Cindy Lutenbacher

    Quick bit of calculation using the Hendrick Hudson “upgrade” cost per kid times 50 million children…we’re looking at about a third of a trillion dollars from taxpayers’ pockets to Gates and ilk.
    But I cannot even begin to measure the cost to the souls of our kids who are the prisoners of this calculated madness.

  • Cindy Lutenbacher

    Quick bit of calculation using the Hendrick Hudson “upgrade” cost per kid times 50 million children…we’re looking at about a third of a trillion dollars from taxpayers’ pockets to Gates and ilk.
    But I cannot even begin to measure the cost to the souls of our kids who are the prisoners of this calculated madness.

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