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Posted at 05:53 PM ET, 04/20/2012

‘Talking pineapple’ question on standardized test baffles students

A question about a “talking pineapple” on a standardized reading test given to eighth-grade students in New York has sparked something of an uproar among students and adults who say it doesn’t make any sense. And because of all the fuss, now the state’s education commissioner says the question won’t be counted in students’ scores.

The question, first reported by the New York Daily News, referred to a story similar to the famous Aesop fable about the tortoise and the hare, but in this version, a talking pineapple challenges a hare to race. The rabbit wins, not surprisingly, as the fruit can’t actually move, and other animals, who have wagered on the winner, eat the pineapple, according to the paper.

Students were asked some perplexing questions: Why did the animals eat the talking fruit, and which animal was wisest?

The Daily News quoted a number of students and adults who looked at the whole reading sample and the questions and concluded that they make no sense.

Scarsdale Middle School Principal Michael McDermott was reported as saying that the question has been used on standardized tests created by the educational company Pearson and has “confused students in six or seven different states.”

The furor over the question led the Education Department to issue a statement Friday — with the headline “Statement from Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. on the Hare and the Pineapple” — saying that while the pineapple-hare passage was not accurately portrayed in the media, the question would not be counted against students. (See full text of statement below.)

The problem, of course, isn’t one test question that people think was badly drawn, or the strong likelihood that other questions on these exams make little sense or actually assess only a small band-width of skills, concepts and knowledge that we want students to know.

The problem is that the results of standardized tests are being used in New York and other states to assess not only students but teachers, principals and schools through complicated formulas that purport to show how much “value” a teacher adds to a student’s achievement. Researchers say that “value-added” assessment models can’t do what supporters say they do and are unreliable accountability.

The stakes of these tests are getting higher as educator evaluation systems are being put in place that are based largely on how well a student does on these exams. The whole push for test-based school reform makes about as much sense as a talking pineapple.

Here’s Education Commissioner John King Jr.’s full statement:

First of all, the “passage” printed in the media is not complete. Although the questions make more sense in the context of the full passage, due to the ambiguous nature of the test questions the Department has decided it will not be counted against students in their scores.
It is important to note that this test section does not incorporate the Common Core and other improvements to test quality currently underway. This year’s tests incorporate a small number of Common Core field test questions. Next year’s test will be fully aligned with the Common Core.
This particular passage, like all test questions, was reviewed by a committee comprised of teachers from across the state, but it was not crafted for New York State. It’s a passage that has been used in other states and was included by Pearson Inc., the test vendor, to provide a comparison between New York students and students from other states.1The passage and related questions are not reflective of the precision of the entire exam.
The accuracy and efficacy our state assessments are crucial to our reform efforts and measuring student academic growth. We will, as always, review and analyze all questions on every assessment we administer.

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This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  05:53 PM ET, 04/20/2012

 
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