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.


Don’t overpromise. Don’t position new tests as the end all be all.dontoverwhelm

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.

Audience Shifts:

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?


Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.


  1. stefananders323323    

    The only people I can see using these are those who write about education but know nothing about it, and those at the superintendent level who have no idea what is happening to teaching in their district.

  2. Arthur Camins    

    Thanks for posting this important document, Anthony. I think the lesson of Don’t Think Like and Elephant is that our task is more about framing an education improvement agenda based on our values than responding to what current education reformers are saying. In other words the best defense is good offense.

    Here are two article in which I tried to do so:

    How to Reframe the Education Debate:

    The strategic campaign needed to save public education — in nine steps –

  3. Chris    

    Funny, no talking point for “The tests costs too damn much!” or “What are we going to cut to pay for these expensive tests?”

  4. chemtchr    

    Well, we know what to say, and they know we know it. That’s why they caution their sock puppets to be sure not to say it:

    “Get involved! Challenge your district! Educate yourself on all the many different kinds of tests your kids are taking and take action!”

    Whatever you do, parents and teachers, don’t look at this indefensible garbage:

  5. Arthur Camins    

    The point of the title, Don’t Think of an Elephant, is that once told not to, no one can help thinking of a elephant. So, if supporters of high stakes testing are having to defend against over-testing, they have already lost the framing battle.

  6. Shaana Niessen    

    I’ve also read that the Gates Foundation (through the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors) has spend $1.1 million beginning in 2007 on PR for “a crisis in American education.” So they spent years convincing us our schools were failing before unveiling their master plan. It’s chilling.

  7. Drew Escaldi    

    My first thought is that it would have been a good idea to proofread for typo’s. This doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Fail!!!

  8. Therese Sorey    

    Is this the persuasion method known as neurolinguistic programming, as outlined by Thom Hartmann? If so, the Gates/Broad people are ignoring a key component: ETHICAL use of strategies.

  9. camb888    

    I would respond that this part “Many of the old tests being used today don’t provide parents and teachers with useful information. The new Common Core tests do.” is pure BS.

  10. Elizabeth Lynch    

    How do we find the entire document, Anthony? I would love to see the whole thing.

    1. Christine Langhoff    

      Hover over the title “HowToTalkAboutTesting”in the post. It’s a link.

  11. leoniehaimson    

    Anthony where’s the link to the entire doc? I don’t see it. This is strange advice: “Do suggest the simple act of talking to the teacher.” Most teachers at least in NY will not disabuse parents of the notion that the standardized tests are worthless at best, and extremely damaging at worst.

  12. noelhammatt    

    Am I missing something? The link to the actual document?

  13. Lloyd Lofthouse    

    If this was a Red Herring intended to mislead or distract, you handled releasing this information perfect by making it clear how you came by it and that the document did not identify who wrote and printed it. I’m leaning toward the possibility that this is a Red Herring that was deliberately leaked to distract us. Caution: keep an eye out for the real propaganda when it goes to work. Unless this is the best they can do, they will lose in the long run.

    The reason I lean toward it being a Red Herring is because every focus point they made can easily be defeated by the facts we are already telling as many people as possible. If it isn’t a Red Herring, then the fake reformers are getting desperate to keep fooling as many people as possible with a sales pitch that equals what one might hear from a used car salesman who works in a used car lot in front of a junk yard.

    1. CitizensArrest    

      Lloyd, It may be a different type of red herring, one that gives parents that are already time/energy overextended and therefore underinformed a simple, easy, comforting message that there is no testing crisis, so there’s no need to be concerned or involved in other peoples issues. Nothing to see here, move along. Even though the awareness of the testing industrial complex is growing rapidly, there is still a way to go for us in terms of numbers, and this could be seen as a rear guard action to slow that as well as a distraction. Buying more time to try to get their toxic nonsense written in stone.

      1. Lloyd Lofthouse    

        I agree. The lying corporate reformers are using what I call the Abraham Lincoln Formula—“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

        The greedy for money and power corporate reformers are counting on “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time,” and these fake edu-baggers are hoping to stretch “some of the time” as long as possible to rake in as much $$$ as they can from most of the people they fool.

    2. geauxteacher    

      I totally agree Lloyd. The greatest clue to me was the writer’s assumption that parents would be overwhelmed with “challenging the district.”. Bbrrraahhhaha! Not in Louisiana! Mama bears! When parents jumped in as the curriculum and testing was pushed this year, all hell broke loose.

  14. Christine Langhoff    

    Hmm. Sounds like the op-ed in Saturday’s NYT by Chad Aldeman of Bellweather Partners Education:

    And the fonts and layout in the document look like the graphics from the DQC website:
    and video:

    Both sources funded by BillandMelinda, naturally.

  15. geauxteacher    

    Framing the message and “marketing” one’s position is definitely essential but this particular writer has missed the mark. My guess – he doesn’t know his audience nor the subject – KIDS, child psychology, education. We as parents and educators DO have the capability to convey our message though if we apply effective marketing strategy. We need to learn them.

  16. rbeckley58    

    Google led me to a “Testing Talk” Survey instead. This appears directed toward anyone with opinions about CCSS. Tony, it lists you on the committee. How do you feel about the survey? Should we get the word out?

  17. Marcia    

    If parents are indeed so anxious for this testing information, why not market directly to the parents. Let them privatize the testing process, the continuous review and the test prep. If parents want it, they can take their kids to the private testing service, and the schools can go back to teaching…

  18. Dan McConnell (@DMaxMJ)    

    I know similar training is happening for admins who need to talk their teachers into cooperating with the APPR process by setting continually higher goals for student proficiency. “Would you be proud to put this goal up on a wall for parents to see?” Or, “In this district we have high expectations for students…don’t you believe in your students?” It is eerie to hear similar stories from many teachers in different districts. Like when you talk to the smiling ladies who pull into your driveway on a sunny Saturday carrying some harmless little books. Or let that young man with the free knives have just twenty minutes of your time…and then you spend twenty more getting him the hell out. Or the nice lady who calls with a great purchase protection plan because you are a valued credit card holder. You’ve heard the training, you can almost predict the move down the list of responses (“If they say no again, you say…”). One time I exhausted this nice woman’s list and she got to “But sir, don’t you want to save money???” I knew I’d run her list. C’mon…”Save money???” How do you save money buying stuff? I said “I would not like it here or there, I would not like it anywhere.” I will never forget that moment of silence that felt like ten moments. “Oh, who are you now, Dr. Seuss?” I laughed and apologized, she lightened up and I just explained that I’m the kind of guy that would forget to use the cancel-within-three-month option, and end up paying.

    This is what we have to do…break through the crap. The “you care less for the kids if you don’t comply” narrative. We are being forced to confront data/testing BS artists despite the fact that most teachers really get kids, tests, the strengths and weaknesses of the data collecting tools. Of course teachers want to improve and want to get better results, but the truth is many teachers are having their voice and their input mean less and less, while at the same time being made more and more responsible. But the PR isn’t really for those that know the truth-it’s a tool being used on parents and communities.

  19. Monty Neill    

    Curmudgucation has an excellent deconstruction of taking the PARCC high school ELA sample test online at with some interesting comments to follow.

  20. Christine Langhoff    

    Looks like my earlier comments got hung up in moderation. Too many links?

    The fonts and layout in the document look like the graphics from the DQC website:

    1. Christine Langhoff    

      And the same language was used in the op-ed in Saturday’s NYT by Chad Aldeman of Bellweather Partners Education:

      Both sources funded by BillandMelinda, naturellment.

  21. M. Reyling    

    I keep saying it: How did we get all the way to the MOON without standardized testing?? How did we bring the whole world into the digital information age?? Parents and teachers get NO useful information from standardized testing. They need to TALK to their children and to their children’s teachers. Teachers know what their students are learning. The problem is not in the schools. The problem is in the economy. We have too much income inequality, and too few jobs that actually pay a living wage. Standardized testing is not going to fix that. It is only going to divert scarce resources away from where they are actually needed.

    1. Lloyd Lofthouse    

      In fact, using standardized testing to rank, fire or fail children and teachers is going to take away whatever edge the U.S. had over the rest of the world because it is an artificially manipulated and it is changing the way American children have been taught for almost 200 years. If change takes place within public education, it has to be organic and not artificial and the public education system has changed over the decades with the evolution of our culture and system. The education system is not static. It is fluid and flexible and always has been.

      The reason standardized testing will change America into a 3rd world country with a growing number of disfranchised citizens who live in poverty or the edge of it will be because of the reason the corporate reform movement exits and that is greed and that greed has nothing to do with teaching children. It only has to do with making money and creating arti9fical opportunities to get rich because there is a limit to earning an honest fortune when giant corporations are acting as monopolies and making it more risky for start ups and/or independent businesses. For instance, look at how many independent business Wallmart drove out of business because of its predatory vampire business practices.

      And that greed is the reason that the U.S. has a history of financial disasters. America’s style of capitalism is one of the worst if not the world possible capitalist economic model there could be and it started with the industrial revolution in Europe and also still plagues Europe too.

      South Sea Bubble (1720) (UK)
      Mississippi Company (1720) (France)
      Crisis of 1763 – started in Amsterdam, begun by the collapse of Leendert Pieter de Neufville, spread to Germany and Scandinavia
      Crisis of 1772 – started in London and Amsterdam, begun by the collapse of the bankers Neal, James, Fordyce and Down.
      >Panic of 1785 – United States
      >Panic of 1792 – United States
      >Panic of 1796-1797 – Britain and United States

      Danish state bankruptcy of 1813
      Post-Napoleonic depression (post 1815)
      >Panic of 1819, a U.S. recession with bank failures; culmination of U.S.’s first boom-to-bust economic cycle
      Panic of 1825, a pervasive British recession in which many banks failed, nearly including the Bank of England
      >Panic of 1837, a U.S. recession with bank failures, followed by a 5-year depression
      Panic of 1847, started as a collapse of British financial markets associated with the end of the 1840s railway industry boom
      >Panic of 1857, a U.S. recession with bank failures
      Panic of 1866, was an international financial downturn that accompanied the failure of Overend, Gurney and Company in London
      >Long Depression (1873–1896)
      >Panic of 1873, a US recession with bank failures, followed by a four-year depression
      Panic of 1884
      Panic of 1890
      >Panic of 1893, a US recession with bank failures
      Australian banking crisis of 1893
      >Panic of 1896

      >Panic of 1901, a U.S. economic recession that started a fight for financial control of the Northern Pacific Railway
      >Panic of 1907, a U.S. economic recession with bank failures
      >Wall Street Crash of 1929 and Great Depression (1929–1939) the worst depression of modern history
      OPEC oil price shock (1973)
      Secondary banking crisis of 1973–1975 in the UK
      Japanese asset price bubble (1986–2003)
      Bank stock crisis (Israel 1983)
      Black Monday (1987)
      >Savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s in the U.S.
      1991 India economic crisis
      Finnish banking crisis (1990s)
      Swedish banking crisis (1990s)
      1994 economic crisis in Mexico
      1997 Asian financial crisis
      1998 Russian financial crisis
      Argentine economic crisis (1999–2002)

      Early 2000s recession
      >Dot-com bubble
      >Late-2000s Financial Crisis or the Late-2000s recession, including:
      2000s energy crisis
      >Subprime mortgage crisis
      >United States housing bubble and United States housing market correction
      2008–2012 Icelandic financial crisis
      2008–2010 Irish banking crisis
      Russian financial crisis of 2008–2009
      Automotive industry crisis of 2008–2010
      European sovereign debt crisis
      2014 Russian financial crisis

  22. Wesley A Kring    

    BROCHURE: ” … they need a objective measuring stick.”

    I just got my measuring stick for the brochure.

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