All across the state of New York, this year’s Common Core English tests have been featuring a host of brand-name products like Barbie, iPod, Mug Root Beer and Life Savers. In addition, for clothing giant Nike, some tests even included the shoe company’s well-known slogan, “Just Do It.”
According to Fox News and other sources, the brand names appeared on tests that more than 1 million students in grades three through eight were required to take in April, “leading to speculation it was some form of product placement advertising.”
State education officials and the publisher of the test say the brand references were not paid product placements but just happened to be included in previously published packages selected for the tests.
But some critics aren’t sold on that explanation. They have questioned why specific brand names would have to be mentioned at all.
“It just seems so unnecessary,” Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which monitors marketing directed at children, told the news channel.
“It would be horrible if they were getting paid for it,” he said. “But even if they’re not, it’s taking something that should not be a commercial experience and commercializing it.”
‘Why are they trying to sell me something?’
The test questions have yet to be made public. Teachers and principals, meanwhile, are barred from discussing them.
However, teachers who have posted anonymously on education blogs complained that some students became confused by the brand names, which were accompanied with their respective trademarked symbols.
As reported by Fox News:
The Nike question was about being a risk taker and included the line, “‘Just Do It’ is a registered trademark of Nike,” according to students who took the test.
Sam Pirozzolo, of Staten Island, whose fifth-grader encountered the Nike question, said there was apparently no reason for such a specific brand.
“I’m sure they could have used a historical figure who took risks and invented things,” Pirozzolo said. “I’m sure they could have found something other than Nike to express their point.”
West Hempstead, Long Island, resident Deborah Poppe said her eighth-grade son was also puzzled by a question, which spawned complaints for a second year in a row, about a busboy who failed to clean some spilled root beer — Mug Root Beer, to be exact, which is a registered trademark of PepsiCo.
‘”Why are they trying to sell me something during the test?'” she quoted her son as saying. “He’s bright enough to realize that it was almost like a commercial.”
Use of brand names was just one of numerous complaints about Common Core that have been raised by parents across New York and around the country. The standards are allegedly intended to increase academic rigor, but the product naming sounds more like brand indoctrination than anything else.
Some who have complained about the testing say questions are too difficult and they don’t actually measure what a student is learning.
As for the branding, that appears to be endemic to New York, at least for now.
‘Branding on tests in inappropriate’
New York State Education Department officials, along with Pearson — the education publishing giant with a $32 million five-year contract to develop New York’s tests, said companies did not pay to be put on tests.
“There are no product placement deals between us, Pearson or anyone else,” said Tom Dunn, an Education Department spokesman. “No deals. No money. We use authentic texts. If the author chose to use a brand name in the original, we don’t edit.”
Stacy Kelly, a spokeswoman for Pearson, told Fox News that neither her company nor the NY state education department received any compensation for the product mentions. And if any brand happens to come up in the testing, “the trademark symbol is included in order to follow rights and permission laws and procedures.”
Some advertising experts criticized the idea of product placement on tests, saying it was inappropriate.
“If any brand did try to place there, what they would lose from the outrage would surely trump any exposure they got,” Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a marketing professor at Golden Gate University, told Fox.