By Anthony Cody.
I have received a training document from a recent conclave of corporate reformers that reveals in great detail how they would like to shape public discourse around the issue of testing.
In recent years the ways in which complex issues are framed has become a central task for those seeking to communicate with the public. George Lakoff’s book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, taught us how important it is to use language and conceptual frameworks to get our messages across. The creators of this document have taken his message to heart, and put a lot of thought into the framing of the issues surrounding testing and the Common Core.
With this in mind, it is informative to see how supporters of test-driven reform are seeking to shore up their eroding position in the public debate. The document I received is presented in bright colors with cartoon illustrations. I will share some of the main messages here, and you can download the whole thing here at this link: HowToTalkAboutTesting. There is no author, source or sponsor listed.
The six page document is titled “How to talk about testing,” and each page tackles a different issue.
Page One: “The argument: There’s Too Much Testing. What’s at the heart of it? Parents want their children to get the maximum benefit from their education, and some fear that testing takes away from classroom learning.”
FIRST: Find Common Ground:
Whether or not it’s true, you’re fighting a losing battle. It’s best to agree.
“You’re probably right, and there are a lot of reasons for that. The new Common Core tests are meant to improve the situation.”
THEN: Pivot to higher emotion: Peace of Mind
While their may be too much testing in some schools, we sure wouldn’t want to have no way of measuring progress. Parents want to know how their kids are doing, and they need an objective measuring stick. These new tests provide parents with the information they want and need.
Do position new tests as a solution, not the problem. Distinguish between adding more tests and replacing old tests.
We know there are a lot of problems with tests. These tests were designed to address some of them. Many of the old tests being used today don’t provide parents and teachers with useful information. The new Common Core tests do. This isn’t about adding another test. It’s about replacing existing tests with something better.
Do suggest the simple act of talking to the teacher. “Challenging the district” Get Involved” can overwhelm parents.
Are they perfect? No. But they’re better. Will the problem of overtesting go away overnight? No. But these tests will help.
Don’t overwhelm parents. This isn’t a call to action.
[this section has a “do not” symbol on top of it] “Get involved! Challenge your district! Educate yourself on all the many different kinds of tests your kids are taking and take action!”
Here are some other quotes from subsequent pages:
Page #3: The Argument: It’s more than just teaching to the test. What’s at the heart of it? Parents want what’s best for their kids, and some fear that testing doesn’t provide any real value.
Dos: Explain how the new tests are the solution to a problem:
Because the new tests measure what kids are learning, preparing for these tests is actually time spent teaching. And good tests – just like good classroom and homework assignments – help students learn by asking them to apply their knowledge to new problems.
Teachers: “The new tests free teachers to do what they love: create a classroom environment that’s about real learning, teaching kids how to get to the answer, not just memorize it.”
Parents: “The new tests create less stress for kids because they’re part of the natural flow of the learning process. There’s no cramming, no test prep.”
Business: “What gets measured gets done!”
“It’s okay to compare, but put the emphasis on how these tests are an improvement, not on how the old tests are bad. Nobody wants to feel like they’ve wasted time and money. And if you start bashing tests, your audience may not know which test you’re bashing.”
Page 4: The Argument: One Size Doesn’t Fit All. What’s at the heart of it? Opponents say that one test can’t possibly work for all kids, or capture local or regional nuances. They want parents to feel that their kids are too unique for testing.
Dos: Do stress the critical nature of reading and math.
“There are many different kinds of dreams and aspirations, with one way to get there: reading and math.”
Do show how they work for all kids.
“It’s not about standardization. Quite the opposite. It’s about providing teachers with another tool, getting them the information they need so they can adapt their teaching and get your kids what they need to reach their full potential.”
I could go on, but I do not want to spoil the fun you may have reading the whole document for yourself.
The central message we hear is a familiar one. The Common Core tests are NEW and much better than tests we have had before. (And it should be noted that as concerns are rising about how lousy the Common Core tests are, we are already hearing that what will REALLY make things better is the NEXT batch of tests, which will DEFINITELY be better.)
We should not worry about teaching to the test because these tests are so wonderful that teaching to them is just like NOT teaching to them!
Tests give us “objective information” that teachers and parents need, want and use.
I am not sure who paid for this extensive messaging document. The Gates Foundation continues to pour money into advocacy for the Common Core, such as this $10 million grant last year to the New Venture Fund to “to support the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards and related assessments through comprehensive and targeted communications and advocacy in key states and the District of Columbia.” That is one possible source. Or perhaps it was just created by an enthusiastic volunteer!
What do you think? Are these messages likely to reassure parents concerned about the over-use and abuse of tests in our schools? How would you respond to these messages?