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Uncategorized   |   Apr 22, 2013

Product placement on standardized tests: a new low?

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Product placement on standardized tests: a new low?

By Angela Watson

Four years ago, I had an experience where I believed that there were advertisements on my students’ standardized tests. (Please, read that story. It’s one of my favorites.)

That nightmare actually came true this week. Yes, my friends. The new standardized tests in New York feature plugs for commercial products. Supposedly, none of the companies paid to have their names included in the assessments. But at least six products (including Mug Root Beer and LEGO) were mentioned by name as part of the test questions. We don’t have a lot of details at this point, as teachers were asked not to talk about the content of the tests, but a few specific example can be found in this article, including the following:

Students at JHS 190 in Queens said the inclusion of some of the brands both within and after the reading passages left them scratching their heads — particularly when the questions had nothing to do with them.

“For the root beer, they show you a waitress cleaning a table and the root beer fell on the floor and she forgets to clean it up. Underneath, they gave you the definition that it is a soda and then the trademark,” said Marco Salas, an eighth-grader at the Forest Hills middle school.

I’ve got so much to say about the difficulty level of these new assessments which are supposed aligned with the Common Core. I also have a post in progress about the latest pushback against the CCSS (several states have pending legislation to drop the standards altogether, after millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent but before the standards have even been fully implemented.) So many standards and assessment rants, so little time.

But I think the commercialization of standardized tests in the name of “authenticity” is heinous enough to deserve it’s very own blog post. Let’s just start with that.


Am I being irrational here? Don’t for-profit companies already have enough influence on education? Shouldn’t schools be a place where children are free from the distraction of commercial pitches and the pressures of consumerism?  I’d love to hear your thoughts–what’s happening with product placement and ads in your school district?

UPDATE: This anecdote was just shared on my Facebook page (and an updated version of the NY Post article linked to above confirms): “After hearing from another parent how her daughter mentioned that on the 8th grade NYS test there was a passage about the Teen Titans, I asked my son if he had it on his exam too, and he said yes. They actually referred to the Green Teen Titan (which is part of a series that was just reintroduced to the Cartoon Network about 2 weeks ago), not having seen the prior series I don’t know if they normally associate them by color, but my son said it was very blatant on how they were making the connection to this new cartoon. This leads me to believe that they are placing products into the exams. Our children are just a demographic for them to market to, and corporate America is hoping to continue to dumb us down. Worse yet, here in NYC (and I believe in the rest of NYS), teachers and administrators have been told that if they discuss the exams in any way, they can be written up or fired, and parents are not allowed to know what is on the exams!!! One of the reasons why I have opted my kids out from taking these exams!”

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. My sister is a VP at Pearson, in charge of teams creating these standardized test. I forwarded the article to her, and below is her response:

    –As is always the case, the “facts” are interpreted incorrectly to support the author’s views. For instance, it is true that passages used on some of our assessments do mention trademarked products. What is not mentioned is that this is because the client requires “authentic text” which are passages written and copyrighted by authors outside of Pearson and we canot change the contents. So we are doing what our clients tell us to do not the other way around.–

    Just FYI 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing that, Laura. I appreciate it. Your sister raises an important point, which is that the state created the parameters for this test and approved its content before it was implemented. Ultimately, the state is responsible for the tests’ content, which is why I didn’t mention Pearson at all in the article.

  2. Angela,
    I totally, whole heartedly agree with you, there is no place for this commercialization in education. Besides that, as a parent, I can’t help but disagree with Bob’s statements of making the tests more relevant and engaging to kids because a lot of parents might not choose to expose their children to some of the things included on the test~ and wouldn’t this cause anxiety to a student taking the test and coming across something unfamiliar to them? Unfamiliar and irrelevant to whatever the questions should really be getting at? I don’t let my son drink soda and he certainly doesn’t watch shows like Teen Titans (we don’t have cable for this reason) In summary, you hit the nail on the head and teachers everywhere are in agreement.

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