Dr. Gary Thompson: SAGE/Common Core Tests Break Basic Codes of Test Ethics   22 comments


I sat in the Early Life Child Psychology and Education center this week, watching Dr. Gary Thompson’s presentation about Common Core testing, thinking that Dr. Thompson is the fearless kid in the tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Dr. Thompson stands armed with honesty, science and evidence, pointing out that the Emperor of SAGE/Common Core tests is stark raving naked.  All around Salt Lake City, meanwhile, people play along with the wealthy emperor, pretending that nothing’s wrong with what the whole world seems to have been paid to agree are such smashing, new  –dare we call them rigorous— clothes.

What does Dr. Thompson see as he analyzes the Common Core SAGE test in its birthday suit?

He points out foremost that there is such a thing as a code of ethics for the psychological testing of children.

“Wait, wait–” says the State Office of Education– “We’re not doing psychological testing on your kids.”  But this does not placate Utahns who fact check for themselves. SAGE/Common Core tests –in addition to being tests of academic subjects– are psychological tests. We know this because:

1) Utah law demands it.  HB15, passed in 2012, required Utah’s public and charter schools to administer computer adaptive tests aligned with Common Core.  It specified “the use of behavior indicators in assessing student performance.”  Behavior indicators are not math, science or language arts data points.  They are psychological data points.

2) The SAGE tests are created by Utah’s test contractor, American Institutes for Research (AIR) which is primarily “one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science  research organizations.”  Its stated mission is “to conduct and apply the best behavioral and social science research and evaluation.”

3) The federal Department of Education –which shouldn’t, but does, call shots for the Utah State Office of Education– openly encourages psychological profiling of students via tests, calling it “data-driven decision making,” “a data quality campaign” and other positive-sounding terms.  See any of its initiativesreports and recommendations  which do depend on/openly promote psychological profiling of children by testing.

Here’s how Dr. Thompson says that SAGE violates the code of ethics for psychological testing:

Standard 9.03 from the Ethical Principles of Psychologists states that “psychologists obtain informed consent for assessments.  SAGE does not do this.  The ethics for informed consent include telling the client (in SAGE’s case, the student and parents) what the nature, purpose and anticipated course of services will be; using clear language; allowing the client  (student and parents) to ask questions; telling them about involvement of any third parties who may have access to the information gathered via the test; disclosing whether experimentation will be used; informing the client whether the test administrator is a trainee or fully qualified to administer psychological testing; obtaining consent in advance of recording or observing; potential risks; potential limitations; and more.

Each of these codes of conduct were broken by the USOE in implementing SAGE tests on Utah schools.

Standard 9.02 states that “Psychologists use assessment instruments whose validity and reliability have been established…when such validity or reliability has not been established, psychologists describe the strengths and limitations of test results and interpretation.”

There have been no independent validity and reliability studies done on SAGE tests, whatsoever, as Dr. Thompson pointed out.  Another enormous principal of all scientific forms of testing– broken.

While it is clear that SAGE tests are psychological in nature, and that the tests do not adhere to the code of ethical conduct for psychological testing, there’s even more at stake.

Dr. Thompson pointed out that the future is very close to already here:  Game-based assessment, also known as Stealth Assessments, are secret tests embedded in video games for schools that are further eclipsing parental rights and knowledge about what data is being collected while children are at school.  Even teachers would not know what exactly is being collected or analyzed when stealth assessments are used in classroom settings.

In a scholarly journal entitled “District Administration” Dr. Thompson read, and shared, that now, in an attempt to lessen student stress, Gates-funded groups are telling us that video games are the education of the future. “District Administration” journal writes that because “complex thinking skills can’t be measured by traditional standardized tests, educators are turning to stealth assessments hidden in video games.” The article continues, “stealth assessments are seamless, so the distinction between learning and assessment is completely blurred.  Kids are playing, they are learning, and they are being assessed all at the same time.”  Further:  “testing companies are working on ways to integrate formative assessments into daily instruction.”  Children will be tested all of the time.  How does a person opt out of that?




Dr. Thompson’s presentation also touched on many other issues of great importance.  He spoke about the vulnerable populations that are forced to take Common Core SAGE tests (unless parents opt them out).  These include children with any of a host of learning disabilities, children with depression and anxiety, children with autism and Asberger’s,  children with  historically poor test taking scores due to cultural bias in testing including African-American and Latino children, children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, children from high-stress poverty homes, children with psychotic disorders, ADHD, and dual exceptional (gifted and learning disordered) to name a few.

He shared from academic journals many ethical considerations associated with Common Core’s pushing of the very young into “rigorous” and age-inappropriate standards.  He shared research he’s collected, too, about the use of children’s data for marketing purposes, (quoting from the academic journal article, “Children as Consumers.”  This is relevant and troubling because the SAGE test creator, AIR, has open partnerships (and data sharing policies) with numerous corporations that have no restraint on accessing SAGE-collected student information.

Thompson further discussed harm to the brain of a child using Common Core testing practices on every type of child, and using Common Core styled math on every type of learner.  He spoke of the brain’s disorganization response to Common Core-styled math pedagogy and to high-stakes tests like SAGE.


This brain-analyzing portion of the presentation must be explained in detail in a separate post.  Briefly: the neurological (brain-affecting) Common Core issues raised by Dr. Thompson’s research are extremely important in light of the fact that both Bill Gates (Common Core funder) and our federal government are highly focused on studying and applying research about the neurology of children, right now.  The federally approved Fattah Neuroscience Initiative, also known as the White House Neuroscience Initiative, was granted federal funds to invest in brain research and drug development, and not just to prevent Alzheimer’s.  Its stated aims: “optimizing interactions between the environment and the brain across the lifespan,” “applying the brain’s information processing capabilities” and “enhancing communication among federal agencies”.  Congressman Fattah  wrote that he is “a major proponent of brain mapping…  understand…the role of individual neurons in controlling our thoughts, movements…”.  –Recall that Secretary Duncan mocked  the idea that the federal government was involved in this, when it was accused of collecting student data using Common Educational Data Standards. He said, “Let’s not even get into the really wacky stuff: mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping.” Yet that is exactly what the federal Fattah Neuroscience Initiative aims to do.  Congressman Fattah has made it clear that brain mapping is the aim of the White House Neuroscience Initiative.  Now, let’s use our brains.  Who is the only huge, captive group of guinea pigs they have under their control upon whom they can do brain mapping research (call it education) for hours and hours every single day?  

Dr. Thompson’s full presentation:

 You’ll want to see the whole presentation and discuss it with your local and state representatives on the school boards in detail.  Each of the issues touched on in Dr. Thompson’s presentation deserves a chapter or a book written on it.

But to keep it simple, digestible, and close to home, let’s focus on one thing:  the thing Dr. Thompson focuses on; the SAGE test. You’ll want to opt your children out of every type of SAGE test:  summative (end of year), formative and interim (year round SAGE tests.)

It is the enforcer of Utah’s Common Core and the primary vehicle for massive student data collection right now.  We need to get rid of it, or opt individual children –by the thousands and thousands– out of it, so that its data collectors cannot do what they aim to do, and so that Common Core experimental standards cannot take deep root in our schools, cannot dictate teacher salaries, cannot narrowly define and narrowly present what is “education” to our children.

Somebody will look out for students’ mental health, privacy, and happiness, even in this age of politically motivated high-stakes SAGE testing –and soon, in this age of stealth testing.  Somebody will look out for the parents’ rights to know about and to guide psychological treatment or analysis of children.  Someone  will pound on the door of the USOE, the governor, and the legislators’ offices, demanding the end of SAGE tests in Utah schools, demanding answers to the questions that Dr. Thompson and other child psychologists, such as Joan Landes and Dr. Megan Koschnick (video below) have raised.

That someone is that person in your bathroom mirror or it’s nobody, because everybody’s so busy.

Legislators are busy.  Teachers are busy. Board members are busy. Reporters are busy.  Common Core technological implementers and teacher development conference producers are busy. Everyone is so busy being busy that the busy-ness that matters most of all— our children and our liberty-– have lost precious ground.

It is not too late.



22 responses to “Dr. Gary Thompson: SAGE/Common Core Tests Break Basic Codes of Test Ethics

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  1. Pingback: Update: Growing Pushback Against Common Core Tests Nationally | COMMON CORE

  2. We are being told in my district that we parents are NOT ALLOWED to opt out of the SAGE mid year testing. Teachers aren’t even supposed to tell parents when these tests are happening. As a parent, I have opted out my children from the SAGE end of year testing, but what can I do to opt them out of the “formative” or interim SAGE tests?

    Threatened out West
    • If you are here in Utah, yes, your parental rights are blatently protected!! You may opt out of anything you want to opt your child out of. It is your prerogative. You can even opt them out of the whole school program or even dual-enroll. Go to utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/what-are-my-parental-rights/ then also peruse around and you will get fully informed. Hope this helps. If you have more questions, join our group on fb Utahns Against Common Core.

  3. Thank you!

  4. Reblogged this on Home's Cool!.

  5. My recollection of Kindergarten is that it was my favorite year of school, counting up to my Masters. We played, colored, took naps, and it was only a half a day. We learned more about sitting still, listening, taking our turn – those things that would help us be able to come to school the next year and begin to learn our abc’s and 123’s and to play nicely with others. I feel really sorry for kids starting school and missing that fun experience of kindergarten as it used to be.

  6. Just want to also say, I’ve worked in process and quality improvement for years. One of the things that is typically done is if there is a proposed major change, rather than implementing that organization wide, it’s changed in one location on a small scale where there will be minimal cost/time/effort involved, and reviewed to determine if it is in fact an effective change worth implementing further. To me, this is one of the worst things about Common Core: it hasn’t been tested before implementing it nation-wide at the huge financial cost as well as the potential human cost to the millions of kids it is being forced upon.

    The other major concern is that this information on childhood performance will be kept by the gov’t. And many of their questions are subjective. I saw a history question asking “do you think it was right for America to drop the atom bomb on Japan in WWII”? Prior to that they show the devastation of the bomb, but gave no information on the bombing of Pearl Harbor or that fact that the Americans dropped information warning the Japanese that the bomb was coming and to evacuate. Meanwhile, any child that is raised by Conservatives who teach their children more about real history and political ideas (rather than those approved by the gov’t) will fail those subjective questions. In the future, the government’s intention is to have few people go to college and most people only getting an 8-10th grade education then leaving for the work world/internships/serfdom. Those who did not respond as desired for the subjective tests will not be afforded the opportunity for a full HS education or college opportunity. Only the pre/appropriately programmed children will get to raise to the top. Did any child that wasn’t a brown-shirt-wearing Hitler Youth get an opportunity to complete their education and go to college? Or even live for that matter.

  7. Nice work…will repost this. Quick question – is SAGE a new name for PARCC or SBAC? Can’t remember what you all use. In Maine they have renamed SBAC to MEA’s, Is this something all the states are doing? Your thoughts?

    • Each state is renaming these tests to pull the wool over parent’s eyes in order to make them think that it has nothing to do with the FedEd, “there there now, parent, feel confident that these are state-led tests.” When you dig into their uncomfortable areas, you will see that it is the FedEd Common Core testing. The bottom line that they want to protect and the reason they are trying to pull that wool over our eyes is plain and simple >> $$. Hope this answers your question.

  8. Are you aware that many of your supporting links to this excellent article are non-functional both in Firefox and Safari? These include the ones about stealth assessment, and any of the federal links. Don’t know if it is a technical problem on your end or if someone doesn’t want that evidence shown. Please let us know. I would really like to document these issues as well. I just completed a major document for the Orange County California School Board. http://www.flstopcccoalition.org/files/E7D4F6C1-DFEE-4B10-AFC1-FFE752407D46–761B72F3-235E-4D7B-BF81-944BB678A425/orange-county-boe-final.pdf Thanks for your always excellent work

  9. Karen, I keep having people tell me that there are technological problems with trying to share links on this blog. I have no expertise in that. I welcome help if anyone out there can help.

  10. Wow, using “formative assessment” all of the time! Guess what? Formative assessment is giving constructive, specific, individual feedback to learners. Explain to me, please, how that is part of a dark conspiracy. Read Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black, probably the two leading exponents of this style of assessment. It is the antithesis of all the summative assement philosophy that drives the high-stakes tests you (and I) oppose. Can you try, just once, not lumping *everything* you don’t understand into the vast Communist conspiracy you fantasize threatens everything and everyone every single moment of your lives? Please. It’s embarrassing to read some of the abject nonsense that routinely shows up in what you post.

    While we’re at it, regardless of little snippets of phrases that you believe “prove” beyond all doubt that SAGE is a psychological test fraught with evildoing, the only thing I’ve found about it that pushes this perspective is a YouTube video from the intriguing “Mr. Noriega.” I’m less than convinced by what he tries to prove there. I’d like to see direct evidence but never have seen a drop of it. I remain utterly skeptical of these accusations absent more concrete, replicable evidence.

  11. Dear Mr. Goldenberg, we are in agreement that “concrete, replicable evidence” is the legitimate academic and scientific tradition in proving anything. This is what the SAGE tests and the CC standards upon which they are based, do not provide. This has been the point all along. Please read the scholarship coming from academics like Dr. Chris Tienken of Seton Hall, Dr. Thomas Newkirk of University of New Hampshire, Dr. Bill Evers of Stanford, the 132 Catholic professors who signed the open letter denouncing Common Core… the list is long and the evidence of no evidence is damning.

    We are also in agreement that formative testing is useful and has always been used in one way or another by teachers. But not without parental consent. And not by huge corporate and governmental databases. That’s the difference. We are not opposed to teachers assessing kids. That would be silly. You can’t say that this SAGE formative testing methodology is anywhere near similar to what teachers did in the past. They are not the same.

    I have no comment about what Mr. Noriega believes or says. I am responsible for this blog only.

    Like my state school board representative and many others, you have used the toxic term “Communist conspiracy” as an attempted shut-her-up-and-shut-her-down weapon.

    There are clearly collectivist agendas that are winning the day in America. There are clearly anti-Constitutional goals being set and met by (perhaps well meaning) leaders. There are undebatably collectivist, centrally-controlled plans for testing, standards and data mining, taking place. You can label them, or me, whatever you want. But the takeover is certainly happening, and is easy to document. The Duncan-Coleman-Barber-Gates clique that’s resulted in the takeover of education in America cannot be honestly dismissed as theoretical. It’s factual. Some people clam up when you call them names. Not me.

  12. I see here the usual paranoid and dishonest misreporting of the facts. The “behavior indicators” you find so suspicious were first referenced in H.B. 177. This is the piece of legislation authorizing U-PASS, Utah’s student performance assessment system. This legislation passed in 2000, ten years before Common Core! There was of course no connection between “behavior indicators” and Common Core assessments in the 2000 legislation, and no connection in HB-15. The phrase occurs in a list of five UNRELATED assessments that, together, make up U-PASS.

    Please stop posting. You continue to bring darkness and deceit into a complex issue that deserves honest and reasoned discussion.

    • Dear Steve, I am sorry that you find my blog “paranoid and dishonest”. I agree with your observation that behavioral indicators have been sought for by big government data seekers previous to the Common Core adoption. The education reforms that are taking away local control and redistributing it to a centralized group of D.C. agencies and private corporations have been working at this for a long, long time– way before Common Core came to town. The real question is, why are you comfortable with your legislature okaying the collection of behavioral indicators on children in any form, whether UPASS or the Student Strengths Survey or SAGE/Common Core testing. I do not approve of that, as a parent.

      If you would like to have a honest, reasoned discussion with me, let’s do that. I welcome it. That’s exactly what we have been begging the Governor and the State School Board for, for three long years. They allow two minutes for public comment, to five Utahns, per month in their so-called “open” meetings. There is no true two way conversation happening. If there were, you wouldn’t see all over this nation, so much pushback.

  13. You missed my point. There’s no connection between the ‘behavioral indicators’ and academic assessments in the statutes! Neither in 2000 nor today. None.

    AIR does many things besides behavioral study, including academic assessments. To argue that everything they do is behavioral because one thing they do is behavioral is illogical, but typical for conspiracy theorists. Again, I won’t convince you or the faithful, but perhaps those who stumble upon your blog looking for truth will see this.

    Finally, you haven’t posted ANY evidence of any test item being behavioral in nature. Now THAT’S crazy.

    • Steve:

      You are absolutely correct that no evidence has been posted regarding “any item on the test being behavioral in nature.” However, having studied neuropsychology and utilized many different (and amazing by the way) forms of adaptive, as well as “stealth” assessments in the private sector, it is common knowledge in the field that “we” are actually capable of inserting pretty much any psychological construct into a testing assessment, without your knowledge or consent.

      The ability to do such, and technology involved is “old news”. The field of assessment is fascinating.

      I have no stake in this “game’. I hate politics. I’m not even a Republican. 🙂 I am, however, a father of four children, two of which were eligible to take this test in a public school setting. My interest in all of this came about entirely as a father, who wanted to know what his kids were getting into. The answers I received over a course of many months from educational leaders in the Utah State Office of Education, were not only not sufficient in nature, I knew via my professional training, that they were flat out lies.

      In our profession, in the private practice sector, we do not have to rely on someone’s “word” regarding the validity of a psychometric intstrument. By ethics code, we can only use tests that have undergone independently verified validity studies….otherwise we lose our license to perform testing on your children.

      This whole entire mess was simply based on the fact that I asked for the validity documents from the Utah State Office of Education, AFTER they gave a professional powerpoint presentation to the Utah lawmakers and the Board of Education stating that validity tests were performed by AIR and the test could be considered valid, fair, and ethical. As a professional, and a father, I was delighted to here such, and was looking forward to viewing the validity documents and having valuable discussions with my colleagues in the field and at our clinic, about this “new” technology of adaptive testing that we had studied about for many years in graduate school. I LOVE testing…its my job…its my passion. However….here I sit literally two years later, and the validity tests have not been produced. After offering USOE $100,000.00 to view them, two years after my original request, doctoral level colleagues and I from across the country came to the logical realization:

      They do not have them. The wonderful technology that we all studied about in school with wide eyed amazement, was finally being unleashed on the community (which included my own children)….however…it was still in the experimental stage.

      Like the splitting of the atom and discovery of harnessing nuclear power, the incredible science that is the foundation behind adaptive testing and stealth testing is not something to be feared, but something that should be celebrated. However, like Nukes, if placed in the wrong hands without the constraints of laws and ethics, the power of psychological testing can be harmful…harmful as hell. (Which is why in the private sector, we have a boat load of restraints and ethical practices tied to its use in the community by licensed clinical psychologists). Having this technology and power used without restraint or limitations by a private contractor, paid for by my tax payment, used on our kids should be a concern for parents who have kids taking this test Amongst the 40 so of my colleagues with doctoral degrees in this area, guess how many of us mostly liberal doctors have their kids taking this test? Zero. Even my uber liberal clinical psychologist wife, who by the way is a fan of common core reforms, won’t let her kids near the SAGE. Why you may ask? Is this brilliant, agnostic award winning practitioner scholar from San Francisco a “fear mongering conspiracy theorist?” Probably not. 🙂 Here answer when asked about why here kids won’t be taking the SAGE test anytime soon is refreshingly blunt: “I’m not stupid.” End of conversation. She hates politics even more than I do, cannot stand the acrimony surrounding educational issues in this State, but without a doubt, she loves her children and she loves the children she is entrusted to care for as a SCIENTIST….and as a scientist, she cannot in good faith, recommend the to parents of her child clients, for them to participate in a experimentation with a technology that is clearly not yet harnessed and understood. When it is, not only will she be the first in line to have her kids take the SAGE test, but we will be integrating this technology into our own private practice.

      Disagree with Ms. Swassey all you wish, however, the tag of “conspiracy theorist” (in this area at least) is not “valid” or intellectually honest on any level. If your desire is to learn more, call our clinic anytime, and I would love to walk across the street and discuss the matter over lunch.

  14. I enjoy reading your blog from time to time. I would like to make a small request. I love blue it’s my favorite color, but I find the white on blue type difficult to read. Would you consider changing it? I am a teacher who is fighting common core and it’s testing agenda.

  15. Pingback: Utah Legislature Adopts Obama’s Model for “Turnaround Schools” | COMMON CORE

  16. Pingback: Ten Reasons To Opt Out of Common Core/SAGE Testing | COMMON CORE

  17. Pingback: Blue Lines Matter | Idahoans For Local Education

  18. Pingback: Letter of Assertion to Opt Out and Refuse the AZMerit Test – Gila Watch

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