Brand Names in Common-Core Tests Anger New York Parents

By Catherine Gewertz — April 21, 2014 2 min read
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Score another big ouch for the common core in New York state: The sprinkling of brand names into this spring’s assessments has outraged some parents.

In a story that’s rippled widely through cyberspace, the Associated Press reports that brands such as Nike, and products including Barbie, iPod, Mug Root Beer, and Life Savers have been named in the English/language arts tests that students in grades 3 through 8 have been taking this spring. This has raised eyebrows and led to accusations that Pearson and New York are participating in a product-placement scheme at the expense of schoolchildren.

“It just seems so unnecessary,” Josh Golin, the associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which monitors marketing directed at children, told the Associated Press.

“It would be horrible if they were getting paid for it,” he said. “But even if they’re not, it’s taking something that should not be a commercial experience and commercializing it.”

According to the AP, New York state education officials and Pearson, its test publisher, say the brand references were not paid product placement, but just happened to be contained in previously published passages selected for the tests.

UPDATE: The use of previously published, or “authentic,” passages—as opposed to texts commissioned specifically for an assessment—is an important part of the shift to the common core, according to state education officials. “One of the main shifts of the Common Core State Standards is to help students analyze authentic passages,” spokesman Tom Dunn wrote in an email to EdWeek.

“Brand names are occasionally referenced in many published, authentic fiction and non-fiction and informational texts,” he wrote. “When passages from authentic texts are selected for use on the Common Core English/language arts tests include brand names, the department must include the trademark symbol. Brand names are not purposely selected for inclusion on the test; rather, they exist as part of the previously published authentic texts due to choices made by authors.”

The concern about the mentions of brand names on the tests adds to New York state’s common-core headaches. The way the standards have been implemented there has caused the state teachers’ union to declare its opposition to the standards, and led parents to pull their children out of common-core testing by the thousands. Something similar happened on last year’s Pearson-designed tests as well.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.