How to Tell Parents that They Я Wrong About Testing

rabbit holesA handy guide to steering clear of weeds and rabbit holes…

Can we talk about testing? And by *talk* I mean the thing where parents offer up reasonable, legitimate and likely heartfelt concerns, which testing advocates then deflect by changing the subject and *pivoting to a higher emotion.* That’s right reader—it’s time for another edition of Say This, Not That.Today’s topic: testing. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp in amazement as our *testing talk* is transformed to appeal to different audiences. But watch out for weeds and rabbit holes! 

A shout out, then a pivot
First a shout out to Anthony Cody for getting his hands on this outstanding document, which you can savor in its entirety here. And while the provenance of said document (not to mention its funding sources) is unclear, what is clear is that there have never been more opportunities to talk about testing. Say, for example, that you encounter someone (who is apparently everyone these days) who believes that there is too much testing. While you know for a fact that this is not true because you read this *report* (although not, apparently, its embarrassing *correction*), now is not the time to dwell upon what you know you know. That’s right, young testing advocate—it’s time to *pivot to a higher emotion.*


Warning: rabbit hole ahead
See how easy that was? All it took was a quick pivot and you totally worked your the-new-tests-are-better-than-the-old-tests magic, not to mention making the parent who had the misfortune of encountering you in the first place feel like a bit of an idiot. But wait—we’re not out of the weeds yet. Said parent now insists on offering up an *extreme example* of something that is actually happening to said parent’s actual child. *My child is tested every other week. That’s all they do is prepare for and take tests!* Which leaves you with no choice but to work your rhetorical magic once again. May I recommend that you trot out that time-tested trick of telling said parent that s/he’s wrong about testing? Here’s a tip: *Do use analogies when they can help normalize and simplify complicated ideas. But don’t overuse them at the expense of straight talk.*

Mind your own business, business person
Now where were we? Ah yes—our said parent has just taught you a thing or two about pivoting by pivoting. Now the parent, who is frankly becoming just a wee bit tiresome, is rabbiting on businessabout how we can’t treat schools like businesses, how accountability is *ruthless and cut-throat,* and schools can’t just *push out students who are challenging.* (They can’t???) You could 1) announce that you have to pick up Sophie and Grayson from college readiness camp and head straight for the Escalade or 2) attempt the rarely attempted triple pivot, pivoting off of said parent’s pivot from your original pivot. That’s right: pivot once more to a higher emotion—what’s best for my kids. No, not YOUR kids (who are flourishing in a non-test-y environment). Said parent’s kids—the ones we were just talking about who are not actually taking that many tests. Audience shift: if said parents are edupreneurs, said pivot will be unnecessary as *most business people are comfortable with the idea of metrics and measurements* and will not look at you all weird and confused-like when you drop ROI in the context of kids and schools. 

The facts are on your side
Do you know what parents love? Facts. And it’s a well-known true fact that low-income parents are twice as likely to appreciate a fact when it is shared with them by a person who is not themselves low-income. So this would be an ideal time for you to roll out some of said facts now. Like the one about the 2012 study that revealed that reading and math ability at age 7 was linked to social class a full 35 years later. Which is probably why said parent is over-counting the number of tests that their actual kids are taking in their actual class. But warning: just because you are *in the know* doesn’t mean that you are *in the clear.* In fact(s), I’m pretty sure that’s a rabbit hole ahead…


The facts are still on your side 
Your course is obvi here, young testing advocate. Simply explain to said parent in the simplest language of which you are capable that their child’s school didn’t actually close, it was repurposed. And that the reason that there is so much teaching to the test is NOT because there are too many tests, which you totally already explained is not the case, but that said parent’s child has a bad teacher, which is probably why it was a good thing that said child’s school closed. I mean was repurposed. Did you mention that the new tests are better tests? And that the new better tests have been designed so that teaching to the test will be practically impossible? Audience shift: if the parent to whom you are STILL talking is an edupreneur, note that greater alignment between curriculum and tests means a major business opportunity.

college readyDo’s and don’ts
Do bring extra facts with you, young testing advocate, and also some kind of something that can be used to tie said parent to a chair as twice as many parents will choose to be on the receiving end of twice as many of your facts for twice as long if they are given no choice. Also, *don’t throw teachers under the bus* as this is a rabbit hole and also a hard habit to break as I’m pretty sure you were still just doing this as recently as today. Also, also, *don’t overly rely on messages about the economy, jobs, and college readiness,* as this is a *don’t* and also, also a hard habit to break. And do pivot once again to a higher emotion: what’s best for my kids. No, not YOUR kids…

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  1. They should re-title this:

    “How to Talk Like a Manipulative P.o.’S”

    (“P.o.’S” = “Piece o’ S-word”… for those not familiar)

    “Pivoting” … “appealing to a higher emotion”… “avoid rabbit holes”…

    … these are all codified forms of brainwashing and thought reform… employed to exploit and mislead others… used by salesmen, pickup artist/”players”, and cult leaders alike.

    Way to go, corporate ed reformers!!! You’ve managed to drill that jackhammer further into the rock, and hit yet another low!

  2. I forgot to mention “Neuro-Linguistic Programming”, also known as NLP. “HOW TO TALK ABOUT TESTING” is shot through with NLP techniques.

    It’s interesting to check out this pro-testing op-ed that just came out in the New York Times, and see how many things the douch-ey op-ed guy says are straight out of this “HOW TO TALK ABOUT TESTING” playbook:

    Again here’s a link to the “HOW TO TALK ABOUT TESTING” playbook:

    Check out these quote pairs:

    “Before you thrown the baby out with the bathwater, talk to your teacher and learn about the tests… Some tests might provide you with more useful information than others. Don’t miss out on the new tests that help you really know how your child is doing at school.”

    NY TIMES douch-ey op-ed guy:

    “”But annual testing has tremendous value. It lets schools follow students’ progress closely, and it allows for measurement of how much students learn and grow over time, not just where they are in a single moment….It also allows for a much more nuanced look at student performance.”

    “Parents want to know how their kids are doing and they need a (sic) objective measuring stick.”

    (Hey Gates folks: proofread next time… that’s ” ‘an’ objective”… RULE: “use “an” NOT “a” before a word that begins with a vowel or vowel sound.”

    That’s a excellent idea, doncha think? 😉 )

    NY TIMES douch-ey op-ed guy:

    “The idea of less testing with the same benefits is alluring. … Today’s eagerness to jettison our commitment to leave “no child behind” (i.e. jettison testing) is a shame, not just because better tests are on the horizon, but also because it worked.”


    “This isn’t about adding other tests. It’s about replacing old tests with something better.”

    NY TIMES douch-ey op-ed guy:

    “Coincidentally, the push for limiting testing has sprung up just as we’re on the cusp of having new, better tests.”


    Advises pro-testing shills that—unless it’s brought up first—“Don’t make this about school or teacher performance,” and how it may lead to firings and school closings

    NY TIMES douch-ey op-ed guy:

    Never mentions consequences that can result from testing, such as teacher firings and school closings.

    “While there may be too much testing in some schools, we wouldn’t want to have no way of measuring progress. … ” (nice double negative, by the way)

    NY TIMES douch-ey op-ed guy:

    “And, yes, teachers and parents have a right to be alarmed when unnecessary tests designed only for school benchmarking or teacher evaluations cut into instructional time. But annual testing has tremendous value.”

    I could go on, but you get the point.

    1. Funny – I read the douch-ey op-ed prior to being talked to about testing and had already managed to forget about it–but you’re exactly right. He hits all of the key notes before pivoting to the penultimate pivot: the best tests are yet to come! At the time I was puzzled, not just by how a hacky consultant who mostly serves as the water carrier for the anti-pension brigade managed to get an op-ed placed in the New York Times (above the fold, no less), but by how much he concedes to testing opponents. Now I know though that he was *finding common ground* 🙂

  3. Minnesota is mentioned specifically in the document. Perhaps it originated with that funny bunny Daniel Sellers, of MinnCAN.

  4. Gee, Edu-
    Can’t help but notice that the fonts, layouts and language bear a striking resemblance to these infographics from the Data Quality Campain (not a typo!):

    Ms. Bullen’s Data Rich Year:

    and the propaganda piece
    Who Uses Student Data?

    Could it be they share a certain Gatesian provenance? More in the series:

    And isn’t it, I don’t know, idealistic, that they advertise on when they want to hire?

  5. […] all their legitimate concerns about the consequences of this heavy-handed accountability, you might “attempt the rarely attempted triple pivot, pivoting off of said parent’s pivot from your origin…  You don’t want the parent to “hijack the conversation” while you get “pulled into the […]

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