Dear Commons Community,
A reading passage included this week in one of New York’s standardized English tests has become the talk of the eighth grade, with students walking around saying, “Pineapples don’t have sleeves,” as if it were the code for admission to a secret society.
The passage is a parody of the tortoise and the hare story, the Aesop’s fable that almost every child learns in elementary school. Only instead of a tortoise, the hare races a talking pineapple.
While taking the test, baffled children raised their hands to say things like, “This story doesn’t make sense.”
The New York Times is reporting that:
“Antitesting activists have taken up the cudgel, saying that the passage and the multiple-choice questions associated with it perfectly illustrate the absurdity of standardized testing. And by Friday afternoon, the state education commissioner had decided that the questions would not count in students’ official scores.
Daniel Pinkwater, a popular children’s book author who wrote the original version of the passage, which was doctored for the test, said that the test-makers had turned a nonsensical story into a nonsensical question for what he believed was a nonsensical test…”
It turns out the same passage and questions, perhaps with variations, have been used at least as far back as 2007 in states like Illinois, Arkansas, Delaware and Alabama, and every time, elicited roughly the same spectrum of incredulity, bafflement, hilarity and outrage.
“I’m still confused about the WHOLE thing,” a student from Alabama posted on a blog in March 2010.
“Our whole school was talking about that story all day long,” posted Adam from Arkansas, a month later.
“Given all the negative feedback they got in other states, they should have pulled this story,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and critic of the growth of standardized testing, said Friday.
“When the kids ridicule it when they first read it, you know that something’s wrong here. That’s the scary part.”
The test publisher, Pearson, did not respond to requests for comment about the most recent confusion caused by the passage, which was reported Friday by The Daily News.
In a statement Friday afternoon, John B. King Jr., the New York State education commissioner, said that “due to the ambiguous nature of the test questions the department has decided it will not be counted against students in their scores.”
I have read the passage and I have tried to answer the questions. I agree with the students, the entire passage and the associated questions are nonsensical. Just think that this test was developed by a company that made tens of millions of dollars on it, and was vetted by officials in a number of state departments of education. Profit + Incompetence = Poor Education!!
I wonder if NYS is trying to bust unions by creating tests that are written to cause student failure.
The NYS tests usually include many questions that are poorly written and confusing but each year it has gotten worse.
What professional background do you need to write these tests?
What are the standards used to evaluate these tests?
Finding bad questions on NYS Tests is not uncommon. The tests given each year have similar issues. This year the 2012 NYS Math Test has known errors on both the 4th and 8th grade tests. We are supposed to tell the students that there are two answers to a certain question only if they ask specifically about that question. Students heard about it on the news last night so they are so distracted they are looking for it like they are playing Where’s Waldo?
The practice of imbedding pilot questions in the tests is a problem too. They are out of level questions on topics not covered so students can’t answer them but they stress over them trying. Why waste their testing energy and impair their ability to demonstrate their knowledge?