Newest testing outrage involves pro-charter school propaganda in Chicago assessments


May 28, 2012


Julie Woestehoff, Parents United for Responsible Education, Chicago, 773-538-1135

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters, New York City, 917-435-9329

Pamela Grundy, Mecklenburg ACTS, Charlotte, 704-375-4222

Newest testing outrage involves pro-charter school propaganda in Chicago assessments

Parents Across America leaders say “Enough is enough!” – call for an end to high-stakes testing, greater test transparency and parental opt-out rights

A few weeks ago it was “Pineapple-gate,” a testing scandal exposed by Parents Across America co-founder Leonie Haimson, of New York City’s Class Size Matters.

Now Julie Woestehoff, of Chicago’s Parents United for Responsible Education, and Haimson’s PAA founding partner, has revealed a seriously defective reading passage in a Chicago Public Schools standardized exam, after being alerted to it by an anonymous teacher.

The Scantron test included a reading passage about a “multimillionaire” named Charles Mendel who, the passage says, “sends his children to a charter school because he believes that charter schools deliver the highest quality education.’’ Mr. Mendel is apparently a figment of the test maker’s imagination. The passage also stated that charter schools are “showing improvements in student achievement” and are “playing an important role in reforming education across the country,” assertions which are the subject of strenuous political debate.

On May 9, Woestehoff sent a letter to Scantron complaining that this reading passage looked like a blatant attempt at “brainwashing.” She wrote, “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.”

In response, Scantron wrote a letter agreeing to pull the passage from future exams, adding, We sincerely apologize for any upset it may have caused the Chicago Public School students who took this exam, their parents and your organization’s members.’’

The Chicago Sun Times followed up with an article that included interviews of several academic experts who agreed that this was an inappropriate passage to be included in a standardized exam.

This was the second time in a month that a Parents Across America founder had identified a severe flaw in this year’s standardized exams. Late in April, alerted by a comment from a parent on the NYC Public School Parents blog, Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, broke the story about a nonsensical passage on the New York state exams, created by Pearson, Inc., about a race between a hare and a talking pineapple.

Within 36 hours, the NY State Education Department Commissioner released the full text of the passage and questions, and announced he would not count them in scoring the results. Since then, the story has generated news in media outlets around the world, prompted the publication of not one but two leaked memos from Pearson, and intensified the debate about the role of standardized testing in our schools today.

In the first memo, leaked to Time magazine, Pearson’s Chief measurement officer asserted that including the passage was “a sound decision” as it “had been field tested and was “aligned to the appropriate NYS Standards.”  He asserted that though it had been previously included in exams in six other states and three large districts since 2004, “we did not have any prior knowledge that the passage … had any controversy associated with it from any prior use.”

This was clearly a false statement. Students, parents, and teachers from numerous states had complained about the very same passage and questions loudly, for many years, on Facebook, on blogs, over and over again.  But no one in power listened to their protests.

As Haimson points out, “Both the pineapple and the charter school passages reveal how local and state education departments, who are charged with ensuring that these exams include fair and appropriate material, have utterly failed in their responsibility to our children. There must be independent oversight, including panels that include parents as well as testing experts.”

The cost, the time spent and the stress induced by standardized testing on students is undermining, not enhancing their learning,” said Woestehoff. “Parents must have the right to opt their children out of these exams, which carry increasingly high stakes. In addition, we fail to understand why Race to the Top requires that these exams be factored into teachers evaluations when many experts, including those at the National Academy of Sciences, have asserted that they are not reliable enough to be used for this purpose.”

“Enough is enough,” said Pamela Grundy,a third PAA co-founder who helped lead a parent revolt against an expansion of high-stakes testing in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Parents need to stand up and be heard. Legislators work for us, not for the testing companies. We need to let them know how frustrated we are with this unproductive focus on high-stakes testing, and demand that they listen to parents as they devise a more sensible approach to improving our nation’s schools.”

Parents Across America and our member affiliates, along with FairTest, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and other national organizations, have helped develop a national resolution on high-stakes testing, based on a resolution that more than 500 school boards in Texas have approved.  As of today, this new national resolution has also been passed by 306 organizations, including school boards in Florida, Ohio and New York. It is posted here:


Parents Across America (PAA) is a non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that connects parents and activists from across the U.S. To share ideas and work together on improving our nation’s public schools. PAA is committed to bringing the voice of public school parents – and

common sense – to local, state, and national education debates. Check out what we believe works – and what doesn’t work — in education.

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