NY officials’ excuse for link to vulgar test prep questioned

New York State Education Commissioner John King, (Mike Groll/AP File Photo)
New York State Education Commissioner John King, (Mike Groll/AP File Photo)

What did New York state education officials do when they were questioned about why a Common Core website they operated was sending students to other sites with vulgar material? Not what you’d hope. Award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in Nassau County wrote in this post about the website, and in the following piece, answers the question about official reaction.

Burris has been chronicling New York’s standardized test-driven school reform on this blog for some time (here, and here and here and here, for example). Burris was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010,  tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is a co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by thousands of New York principals and  teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here. 

By Carol Burris

In my January 11 blog post, I included information about a troubling link on the New York State Education Department’s website, which was listed on the Student Service Page under the heading, Making Test Prep Fun.  This link took users to a site called “allthetests.com”.  That site is filled with inappropriate “quizzes” designed to determine, for example, if the user is a “sexy bitch” or is “evil” or is a “freak” or  is “a true Mexican.”

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) took the link down, after an outraged parent, Anna Shah-Bomba, made the department and the public aware of its existence.  The news media picked up the story, and questioned NYSED about the purpose of the link and its contents.  Unfortunately, their response is even more troubling than the original link.

When questioned by NBC news, (you can hear the account here), NYSED officials responded that when they posted the link in October of 2012, the site provided a “fun, light-hearted way” to practice content that was relevant to what students were learning.  In another interview with the press, SED spokesman, Dennis Tompkins, acknowledged that the link had been on the SED website, but that the contents of “allthetests.com” at the time of its placement, were appropriate and useful for teachers for “planning after-school programs.”

Parent Anna Shah was not content with the explanation and she wondered whether the public was being told the truth.  In order to find out what was on the site in October 2012, she used a tool that allows the user to access the archives of the Internet, called The WayBack Machine.  The Internet Archive, which began in 1996, created the WayBack Machine  in order to allow the public access to the contents of a webpage on specific past dates.

What Anna quickly discovered was that many of the quizzes on “allthetests.com” were just as offensive in October 2012 as they were last week. Here are some examples of what she found.

The 100% Accurate Gay Quiz was on the website in October of 2012, along with a quiz on Harry Potter.  You could also take a quiz to find out if you were “gay, whore or what.” A sample of those questions can be found here. Please be advised that the contents are vulgar and explicit. You can see a list of the top quizzes during the time period when the SED linked the site here. The site hosts quizzes on execution, masturbation and whether or not your friends are plotting your death.

Mr. Tomkins’ justification, that the site was a planning resource for teachers, truly boggles the mind.  Meanwhile, Commissioner John King deflected accountability, by tweeting a link to a disclaimer statement on the education department’s Terms of Use page.

The unwillingness of New York’s commissioner to assume responsibility for blunders such as the above is consistent with his unwillingness to assume responsibility for the serious problems with the rollout of the entire Regents school reform agenda.  For example, during parent forums, King regularly laid the blame for over-testing on schools, without acknowledging that the APPR manuals produced by his department provides lists of acceptable third-party standardized tests to use for teacher evaluations, as well as examples of pre-and post-test Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) for schools to use.

New York parents and teachers deserve a response that acknowledges the truth, assumes responsibility and makes a commitment to solving the problem. They need their commissioner to say something similar to this: “We are looking into the matter to find out how this could have happened.  It is our responsibility to vet all of our materials and to regularly check the links we provide. We will be conducting a review of the Engage NY site to make sure that all materials and links are educationally sound and productive. We offer our sincerest apologies to those who inadvertently viewed offensive material.”

John King enthusiastically supports accountability measures for teachers, principals and schools. Shouldn’t he be accountable as well?

 

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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