Pearson, You Can Do Better

People are worried about Common Core. People are worried about PARCC tests. Me? I’m worried about the way the PARCC tests are designed by Pearson, because when I see people get upset about PARCC what they are often reacting to how difficult it is to take the test, not the content or the use of standardized tests. In short, the design sucks and the poor usability makes students suffer.

Actually, I’m worried about a lot of the design that my district buys from Pearson (especially as interesting competitors such as Zearn can be had for free).

As I do homework with my kids I sometimes come across instances of weird and unfortunate design. I’m going to capture them here over the course of the school year as a way of documenting where Pearson needs to improve.

  1. Use Proximity and Clear Labeling. OK, here’s a simply example that seems harmless but totally confuses a 1st grader (and makes her Dad think too much). The place for an answer at the end (“____ tents”) corresponds with the question, “How many more tents did the campers set up?” and so the answer is 2. But the question is not placed next to the answer space, violating proximity design guidelines; it’s just hanging out there. Alternately, you could have labeled the answer space to be more explicit, e.g. “_____ more tents.” Instead you sacrificed clarity to brevity.

2. Include Examples: When we are asked, “Write an addition story” what does that mean? “Once upon a time, in the land of Pearson, there were cubes of many colors that all lived together in peace and harmony. But one day…” No. That won’t fit in the space given. Perhaps my 1st grader was taught what story means in this context, but if so she couldn’t recall at homework time. Perhaps Dad could make something up (“Add the yellow and green cubes”) but nothing that will fit in the space feels like a story. So we skipped it. Please use a clearer term here, or include an example.

3. Make it Easy to Distribute Class Codes: Class codes suck, but they’re sort of a necessity these days, I get that. So if you set up a hurdle that teachers and parents have to jump then help them jump it. You could send teachers an email they could simply forward to parents. Or give them a PDF that when printed results in a sheet each student can take home. Without the class code, we’re dead in the water and it’s hard to continue the instruction at home.

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