Why This Professor Leaked Standardized Test Questions

May 27th 2016

The phrase "controversial leak" conjures thoughts of celebrity nudes, politicians' phone numbers, and murmurs of government conspiracies. But in New York, a very different kind of leak has caused quite a stir on social media — questions from a standardized test exam, The New York Times reported.

Here's what went down.

Columbia professor Celia Oyler shared a scathing critique of a fourth-grade standardized reading test emailed to her by an anonymous high school teacher on her blog. The post on May 7, which included actual questions from a test still administered by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) through June 10, asserted that the questions were egregiously demanding and inappropriate for students reading at a fourth-grade level.

The post's author stated that one of the texts on the reading test was at a 7th grade reading level, and an interest level suited for grades 9-12, according to Scholastic. She also alleged that the test included complex essay prompts that she believed did not reflect the standards for fourth graders articulated by the Common Core State Standards.

Parents and teachers agreed, revealing their own feelings toward standardized testing and sharing the post.

"So this is what we've come to — it's an act of brave rebellion, a risk to career and livelihood, to publish some questions from PARCC's Big Standardized Test," teacher and education blogger Peter Greene, wrote.

"At the end of the day, BS Test manufacturers are more worried about their proprietary money-making property than they are about making a good test or providing real test results," Greene continued. "You know what kind of test needs this sort of heavy security? A crappy test. That is confirmed by the anonymous post, which simply puts in the sunlight what teachers who deal with this steaming heap of BS Testocracy already know."

The test company quickly took notice of the leak.

PARCC threatened Oyler with a lawsuit, and demanded that the questions be taken down from her blog, Google, and Twitter due to copyright law violations. Though the company successfully wiped the posts from much of social media, at time of posting, the questions are still live on the blog NYC Public School Parents.

“Fair testing cannot exist if test questions are publicly available before the tests are administered,” Heather Reams, PARCC Inc director of communications, told The Times.

Reams told The Times that the company planned to release one-third of the questions after the culmination of testing season, and said that 800 questions from previous tests were already available to the public.

Oyler redacted the test questions after the company's legal threats, but stood by her outrage and the spirit of the initial post.

She told The Times that she hadn't thought about the fact that some students would still take the test, but she also suggested that the public scrutiny PARCC endured as a result was important.

“I was so angry when I saw the items that I wasn’t thinking about protecting the company. I was thinking about the importance of the public knowing what is going on in the name of accountability,” Oyler told The Times.

“These tests can determine which middle school you get into, whether you graduate, whether you’re retained for a year, so people need to know that the criteria we’re using for these huge life decisions are valid,” Oyler said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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