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8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests

Bush's No Child Left Behind Act and Obama's Race to the Top grant program means testing giants are raking in the dough.

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Because Race to the Top ties teacher evaluations to these test scores and NCLB puts sanctions on schools that fail, both teachers and administrators have also suffered in various ways from these programs. Teachers have had to teach to the test and put other classroom learning aside, which researchers believe is the cause of decreased creativity among children. A 2011 teacher survey revealed that 66 percent of teachers said the NCLB’s focus on reading and math has led to reduced time for art, science and social studies.

Meanwhile, many administrators have reacted by taking students’ scores into their own hands — and cheating. Cheating scandals have been documented in more than 37 states, with the largest and most recent scandal in Atlanta, GA. One superintendant in El Paso is currently serving jail time for cheating and even forcing low-scoring students to drop out of school.

For charter schools, forcing low-scorers out has been common practice. Students with disabilities, bilingual students and students with various behavioral issues are routinely denied access to charter schools for fear of lowering the schools’ test scores, which charters rely on in an attempt to appear superior.

And as testing has become more high-stakes — determining promotion, graduation (for 26 states), teachers’ jobs and schools’ very existence — students are facing insurmountable stress and anxiety. (One California standardized test even came with an instruction packet on what to do with a test booklet if a student vomits on it.) Perhaps, more damaging, a new study has found a relationship between high-stakes testing and the school-to-prison pipeline, with students who fail high stakes testing exams 12 percent more likely to face incarceration.

Testing, however, doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, it can be helpful if used to gauge students’ abilities.

As Bob Schaeffer writes:

“Standardized tests can be a portion of an assessment system. They are an okay tool to measure factual recall in a real quick way. … The purpose of testing is to improve learning and teaching, which means it should be primarily a feedback tool not a label and punish tool.”

But for now, Pearson and other educational corporations profit off of Bush and Obama’s policies that made standardized tests one of the main forms of assessment, tied to severe consequences. And while students, teachers and schools suffer the consequences of these profitable standardized tests, Sandy Kress, one of the key architects of No Child Left Behind—and now a lobbyist for Pearson— sends his son to a private Latin school that doesn’t give the tests.

Schaeffer said Obama’s children also go to a private school where standardized testing isn’t emphasized.   

He said, “Well to-do parents can buy their way out of the test prep insanity by moving to well to-do districts where there’s not much test prep going on in schools.”

Fortunately, the increase in standardized testing has been  met with resistance. Across the country, teachers are refusing to give the tests and students are refusing to take them. Parents are also speaking out and are part of the grassroots fight to remind corporations, politicians and school boards that our education is not for sale. 

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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