In his weekly show, John Oliver took on the absurdity of standardized testing, a series of interminable tests that American schoolchildren have to take at this time of year. Parents and teachers have decried the amount of time that schools spend “teaching to the test” and administering them. In fact, some parents and students around the country have gotten so mad, they’ve begun an “opt out” movement.
Oliver focuses on Pearson, a British multinational, during one part of his monologue. Pearson administers about 100 million tests worldwide, spokeswoman Stacy Skelly told Quartz. For viewers without kids, Oliver compared the company to one of America’s least favorite cable companies. “Pearson are the education equivalent of Time Warner Cable. Either you’ve never had an interaction with them and don’t care, or they’ve ruined your f****ing life.”
A seemingly nonsensical test passage about a talking pineapple and a hare is one that media and education advocates have latched onto as an example of the unreasonable questions that students have to deal with.
Oliver talks about the test graders Pearson sometimes hired off Craigslist. Skelly confirmed that Pearson hires graders from Craigslist, among a number of places. She said they go through a rigorous application and training process. But Skelly said Pearson does not do some of the things Oliver alleged, such as asking graders to alter scores to match a desired curve. (The show does not make clear which of the former graders it spoke with worked for Pearson, versus other testing companies.)
Pearson reacted good-naturedly to Oliver on Twitter, linking to a post that points out that testing is only one part of student learning assessment, and to another that says data will be the future of test improvement.
As Education Week points out, standardized testing is a huge and confusing topic, one that Oliver can’t fully explain in all its nuance in an 18-minute segment. But he make a good case for more accountability from the government and test companies. “This is a system which has enriched multiple companies, and that pays and fires teachers based with a cattle-birthing formula, confuses children with talking pineapples, and has the same kind of rules regarding transparency that Brad Pitt had for Fight Club.“