Test prepping is big business. The linkages between advocates of expanded testing and corporations profiting are at times hidden behind multiple layers of faux-academic research and policy institutions -like the Society for the Advancement for Excellence in Education, the Fraser Institute, or the Technology Assisted Student Assessment Institute or the test-prep western success story -Castle Rock Research.
The alleged origins of Castle Rock Research have the aura of mythic entrepreneurial get-up-and-go. Allegedly its origins lie in the actions of an enterprising Alberta undergrad who would wait outside examinations and solicit copies of the exams from exiting students. He is then alleged to have bundled these exams and resold them to other students. Combine this with tactical alliances with prominent education ministry bureaucrats and you have corporate success story writ large.
Today Castle Rock is making a profit off of the drive toward standardized testing. Somehow it’s sales reps are getting direct access to students and their parents through BC Public Schools. One Vancouver Secondary School, fro example, used it’s direct email system to contact parents and students on Sunday May 6:
Hello [ . . .]! This is a message for our students in Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12! (Not this time Grade 8’s) On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week, the representative from The Key book sales will be in our Cafeteria offering study materials for sale. These study guides cover many course areas, mostly at the Grade 12 level, but representation is at the Grade 9, 10 and 11 levels as well. So remember, come to the Cafeteria on May 8, 9, or 10 with your money, $17.00 or $20.00. See you all tomorrow!
Castle Rock Research has managed to get hold of the test prep market in BC by gaining access to students and their parents with the seeming endorsement of school-based administrators and the Ministry of Education. Their Key Guide series is explicitly “designed to help students prepare for school tests, final exams, and standardized assessments.” Once has to complement them on their ability to gain access to captive markets of hundreds of students and to have gained the endorsement and support of school officials.
One wonders what was offered to the school to gain access to their students? If corporations want to make money off of the anxiety of a grade hungry education system -so be it. However there are serious questions to be asked about the ways in which certain corporation’s seem able to capitalize on their social connections. Sometimes this activity leads to criminal charges (see the BC Liberal Influence Peddling Case). Sometimes its just bad taste.
If we were to remove the mania around testing and achievement we wouldn’t have to worry about corporations preying upon our fears and anxieties.