Reflections on a Critique of a New York Times Story

This week, I sent an email to our partners across the country describing as “inaccurate” a recent article in The New York Times about the decision by the state of Massachusetts to “abandon” its new Common Core-aligned test, known as PARCC. In a separate tweet, I also said that a letter to the editor of the Times from the story’s key source, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester, and a similar quote in Politico, “debunks” the original story. The reporter, Kate Zernike, reached out and challenged my assertions that the story was “inaccurate” or was “debunked” by Chester’s quote. Another education reporter I have known for years also felt my critique was unfair. I agreed to reflect on my choice of words. The facts are pretty clear: Massachusetts has decided to create a new test that draws substantially from PARCC and combines material from its previous state test, known by its initials, MCAS. No one knows at this point what portion of the new tests will consist of PARCC questions, but all indications are that it will be a significant portion. As Chester said:
For all I know, maybe it would be 95 percent PARCC, maybe it would be 80 percent PARCC, maybe it would be 75 percent PARCC. I don’t know where that would land.
Massachusetts will also remain a member of the group of states that developed the test. While the Times story makes both of these points, the headline and the top of the story say “rejecting” and “abandoning.” As a former reporter, I have a deep respect and appreciation for the important work reporters do to inform the public. Moreover, it is our mission at Education Post to move beyond inflammatory rhetoric and foster productive dialogue on ways to improve public education. Given the facts, I still feel the story's characterization of Massachusetts as rejecting and abandoning PARCC could easily mislead readers—but it’s wrong to imply that the entire story is “inaccurate.” And, I should've chosen a better word than "debunked" in describing Chester's letter to the editor and Politico quote, which essentially clarified the testing compromise and the state's plans for PARCC. I apologize for that wording, and I appreciate that both reporters took the time to share their feedback.  
Peter Cunningham
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with Whiteboard ...

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