Is Pearson Using Your Child For Research?
This letter came home to a parent in Saline County this week. It seeks parental permission to have their children be the subjects of a Pearson research project for their Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC). The letter says that this survey is looking at “student behavior,” that teachers will be using the “Teacher Rating Scale” survey to observe the child, and the big win for the school is that they will have the “opportunity” to earn iPads for “some” classrooms.
Let’s break this down.
1. Teachers and students are being asked to be free labor for an international for profit company. Sure they say they will give the school “some” iPads, but as far as the parents know that could be 1 or 2 that will not necessarily benefit their child directly. In fact, from the Pearson letter to parents, the only educational benefit to their child is that the school can get mentioned in the manual for this for profit product and that the school as a whole could get included in the “national norms.” Hardly a measurable benefit for a child’s education. The teacher’s time is purely gratis.
And what is this product for which your school’s name could be in the manual? The BASC is, according to one website, “a useful tool that teachers or parents may choose to implement to monitor the progress and behavior patterns of young minds.”
2. Ok, but what are those behavior patterns they are looking for? They include your child’s focus, intellectual and interest levels, how your child relates to others in a social setting. Teachers are looking for emotional triggers such as anxiety, anger and hyper-activity to see if they play a role in any learning difficulties. They also look at positive traits such as leadership, social skills and his adaptability to new environments. This is some pretty deep stuff, the kind of thorough analysis typically left to highly trained professionals. Another website said, “The BASC system is generally used by professional psychologists, and may also be used by school psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical practitioners. It was originally designed to help health practitioners differentiate, diagnose and treat problems that young people experience.”
So now we think teachers, who need the heavy prompting of common core to teach basic skills, are qualified to do complex psychological analysis of a child’s behaviors with a simple survey that ” does not require your student to do anything.” They can make this assessment just by watching. That is an incredibly high bar to set for teachers, one that borders on professional misconduct.
And that other benefit, of being included in the national norm (as defined now by Pearson) means that they are developing the tools to determine if your specific child is “not in the norm.” We know that schools are very interested in your child’s academic performance. Since they have begun to identify “emotional triggers” that are causing learning problems we can pretty much count on the school to make it their responsibility to apply an intervention to address those triggers. Can you see how this tool gives them yet another access point into your family’s private life? But hey its worth it because somewhere out there a little kid has an iPad.
3. I would have liked to give more specific information about the BASC but Pearson does not make that public. You can read about their BASC here on their clinical page and see that it is guided by an education professional Randy W. Kamphaus, PhD, who is Dean of the College of Education and Distinguished Research Professor at Georgia State University and Cecil R. Reynolds, PhD a Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology, Professor of Neuroscience, and Distinguished Research Scholar at Texas A&M University, who is known for his work in psychological testing and assessment. So at least someone in this process has some special training in evaluating child behavior.
Alas, we cannot know more about this survey, as one mother found out when she called Pearson at the direction of her district, because it is “copyrighted.” She was told she could not look at the survey and that if she is found guilty of viewing any testing materials, in any form, not only she, but those responsible for that material – will be subject to penalties for copyright violations
Apparently, in Pearson’s world, copyright has the same impervious protection of a Hogwarts spell. Understandable as Pearson is a primarily British multi-billion dollar international company.
You have to wonder, however, if the districts who salivated over getting a few iPads were aware of Pearson’s intent to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, anyone who is found sharing anything on this assessment with parents. The parent said the Pearson folks were “incredibly adamant and forceful in telling me that I was strictly prohibited – no matter the circumstances.” That last part was important because her child was tested, against her expressed wishes that he not be, and here she is stuck between an unresponsive district and a mega corporation. I’m guessing most districts are not aware of this liability. I hope districts and principals are paying attention.
4. It is also doubtful if Pearson is fully versed in the Protection of Pupil Rights Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232h; 34 CFR Part 98) here in America which says that “a local educational agency that receives funds under any applicable program shall develop and adopt policies, in consultation with parents, regarding the following:
The right of a parent of a student to inspect, upon the request of the parent, a survey created by a third party before the survey is administered or distributed by a school to a student;”
Parents have a federally protected right to see any survey administered by a school. Schools should be making this abundantly clear to any researcher who wants to use the school as their free labor and laboratory.
It would be a good idea for districts to develop a policy that says any research program requests must go through an Institutional Review Board also known as an independent ethics committee or ethical review board, which is formally designated to “approve, monitor, and review biomedical and behavioral research involving humans,” before the district or any individual school can even agree to participate so that they can address these problems before they arise. They should also have policies in place to honor parental wishes in order to protect themselves from potential litigation by parents whose written requests were ignored by staff.
You may want to send a letter to your school board asking if they are planning to participate in this behavioral assessment project by Pearson or any other research organization. And if so, is the district being compensated for this work?
Please let us know how your district responds.