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 initiatives, reports 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.