Millions of students are taking Common Core tests known as the SBAC, but they may not realize that long before they sat down for the exams, certain subjects were deemed either too sensitive for inclusion or permitted on the exam in very specific ways. What subjects? Would you believe:
* “Couples social dancing”
* “Upsetting aspects of slavery”
* “Pregnancy of human beings”
* “Climate change caused by human behavior”
* “Ski trips”
A look at the 2012 Bias and Sensitivity Guidelines for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s Common Core standardized tests — developed by ETS (the Educational Testing Service) — shows a wide range of subjects considered inappropriate for the exams. (SBAC is one of two multi-state consortia given federal funding to develop new Common Core exams.)
From the guidelines:
Certain topics are extremely controversial, upsetting, inflammatory, and often judged by parents and communities to be inappropriate for children.
Such topics should be excluded from the Smarter Balanced assessments unless required to measure the Common Core State Standards. The goal is to avoid material that may cause extreme negative emotions in test takers because such emotions have the potential to interfere with test performance. It is best not to include materials that may cause strong negative emotions such as anger, disgust, fear, hatred, or sadness.
The following list is intended to indicate the nature of topics that should be excluded from Smarter Balanced assessments, but the list is not exhaustive. Current events may add topics that are so problematic that they should be excluded from the assessments. Topics to be avoided include, for example:
•abuse of people or animals
•deportation of immigrants
•experimentation on people or animals that is dangerous or painful
•killing of animals for sport
•the occult, witches, ghosts, vampires
•pregnancy of human beings
•sexual behavior or sexual innuendo
Yes, contraception and “pregnancy of human beings” is on the same list as torture, rape and vampires.
The guidelines continue:
Other issues have become so sensitive that the topics are difficult to treat in a way that does not cause fairness problems. It is safest not to include topics such as the following in Smarter Balanced assessments:
•climate change caused by human behavior
•prayer in school
•current or recent partisan political issues, ethnic conflicts, and religious disputes
Yes, the reality of climate change by human behavior is on the list, a subject seen as too difficult to fairly address, as if there was any real doubt about it. Thus, in a section explaining questions that are acceptable and unacceptable, you will find this:
Describe the changes within the ecosystem portrayed in the video, including the impact of man’s activities on weather patterns, and possible solutions to correct ecological problems.
a. Unacceptable. The question uses “man” to refer to all people, which is not in compliance with the guideline on appropriate terminology for men and women. The influence of people on climate change is highly controversial and is out of compliance with the guideline on the avoidance of advocacy.
The subject of evolution is equally a problem for SBAC test writers, according to the guidelines, which say:
Evolution of human beings or similarity of human beings to other primates should be avoided as highly controversial for some groups. Evolution within a species (such as evolution of bacteria to withstand antibiotics) is much less problematic and could be allowed if treated with care. Fossils and the age of Earth are acceptable if not linked to evolution of human beings. (In tests intended to measure knowledge of science, any aspect of evolution required for validity is acceptable.)
In a section titled “Topics to Be Treated with Care,” there is this:
This topic may be included in historical or literary documents if important for the measurement of the Common Core State Standards. A focus on graphic, upsetting aspects of slavery should be avoided.
Upsetting aspects of slavery should be avoided? What aspects of slavery aren’t upsetting? And why should slavery — as important a topic in American history as any other — be barred as an acceptable topic for a standardized test?
How did couples social dancing get banned? In the same “Topics to Be Treated with Care” section, it says:
“Allow all forms of dance except couples social dancing, which is the type most likely to draw criticism from some groups.”
Because some groups criticize couples social dancing, it shouldn’t be mentioned on the SBAC?