The Never-Ending Debate Over John Oliver’s Testing Segment

Nearly five days after it first ran, this 18-minute “Last Week with John Oliver” segment on testing, Pearson, and all the rest continues to generate attention on social media and elsewhere:

By and large, those concerned about testing, test-prep, and accountability-based school reform loved the HBO segment (and thought it was hilarious). Reform critic and NYU historian Diane Ravitch wrote her followers that the segment was “fantastic” and a helped tell the public “how our schools are diverting hundreds of millions of dollars-billions-to testing instead of instruction.”

Not surprisingly, those who think that testing is good, or at least necessary, aren’t so enthusiastic about the piece. My Monday morning take on the segment was that it ignored the benefits of testing and reporting achievement data for poor and minority kids (a sentiment that was echoed by a new letter by civil rights groups). It also wasn’t very funny, I thought, not that being funny is entirely the point.

Testing company Pearson, which took the most direct hit from Oliver in the segment, issued a response to the show that was published in Valerie Strauss’s blog this morning. Bylined by Alfred G. Binford, Pearson’s managing director of assessment and direct delivery, says that the company responded as quickly as possible to testing glitches this spring (and claims that they have been few and far between) and defends Internet monitoring as necessary to protect the integrity of the new tests. 

No word yet that I know of from the HBO show team — or from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker. Meantime, Oliver’s former Comedy Central colleague Stephen Colbert won the day (and bridged the reform divide) by announcing that he was going to fulfill $800,000 in DonorsChoose classroom projects requested by teachers in a South Carolina district.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.