NEW YORK (AP) - “Just Do It” has been a familiar Nike slogan for years, but some parents are wondering what it was doing on some of New York’s Common Core standardized English tests.
Brands including Barbie, iPod, Mug Root Beer and Life Savers showed up on the tests more than a million students in grades 3 through 8 took this month, leading to speculation it was some form of product placement advertising.
New York state education officials and the test publisher say the brand references were not paid product placement but just happened to be contained in previously published passages selected for the tests.
Some critics aren’t so sure and questioned why specific brand names would be mentioned at all.
“It just seems so unnecessary,” said Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which monitors marketing directed at children.
“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.”
The test questions have not been made public, and teachers and principals are barred from discussing them. But teachers posting anonymously on education blogs have complained that students were confused by the brand names, which were accompanied by trademark symbols.
Deborah Poppe, of West Hempstead, Long Island, said her eighth-grade son was similarly puzzled by a question, which drew complaints for a second straight year, about a busboy who failed to clean some spilled root beer - Mug Root Beer, to be exact, 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.”
The use of brand names was one of several complaints raised by some educators and parents about the statewide tests, aligned to the Common Core standards intended to increase academic rigor. Some contend they are too difficult and don’t measure what students are actually learning.
While such general complaints about Common Core tests have arisen elsewhere, advocates said the prevalence of brand names appears to be specific to New York.
Representatives of the New York State Education Department and Pearson, the education publishing giant with a $32 million five-year contract to develop New York’s tests, said the companies did not pay for the exposure.