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The Pineapple: Poster Fruit for Standardized Tests

Tingley-021 colorIt turns out that a pineapple has become the poster … er, fruit for all that is wrong with reliance on standardized testing.

New York State eighth graders were confronted on their state reading tests last week with a story about a pineapple that challenges a hare to a race.  You can see the whole reading selection with questions here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/04/20/nyregion/21pineapple-do

You might want to read it and see how well you can answer the questions.  But for those of you who need to get on with your day, the story, briefly told, is this.  A pineapple challenges a hare to a 26-mile race.  Some of the forest animals, especially those familiar with Aesop’s fables, bet on the pineapple, assuming it has a “trick up its sleeve.”  The hare takes off; the pineapple, being a pineapple, just sits there.  At the end the animals eat the pineapple.  The moral of the story?  Pineapples don’t have sleeves.

Besides figuring out the moral, kids also had to determine why the animals ate the pineapple afterwards and what might have happened if the animals cheered for the hare.  Then they had to draw a pineapple, come up with a fruit salad recipe, and make a poster that might have hung over the finish line.  OK, just kidding about that last part.  Hard to tell though, right? Pineapple

The question left eighth graders puzzled and worried about not knowing the answers.  It left John B. King, the State Education Commissioner, defensive at first, but later acquiescing to removing the question from scoring.  It left Pearson, the test maker, silent.  It left Daniel Pinkwater, the author of the story on which the selection was based, distancing himself as quickly as a corpulent man can.  Pinkwater posted on his website  that while testing companies make “vast sums of money,” they pay “non-vast sums of money” to authors for the right to use their work.  His story was originally about an eggplant, and the moral was, “Never bet on an eggplant.”  Much better, I’d say.  The same selection has been used on tests in other states, but only in New York has there been an objection from the field.  Pinkwater claims that New Yorkers are smarter, but I don’t know if he’s still trying to be amusing.

In the meantime, Diane Ravitch and other anti-test people not known for their senses of humor blasted the question as just exactly what is wrong with standardized testing in the first place. And I have to say I agree.  Including the pineapple selection with its ridiculous questions reveals a real lack of understanding of eighth graders and how they think. Glad you adults at SED thought the selection was clever, but eighth graders don’t read a lot of parody and they didn’t get the joke.  An excellent reading teacher I know wrote on her Facebook page, “Dear NYS Ed Department, I was just wondering if you were testing reading or if you were purposely tricking kids just to be mean.  Just wondering ….”

Bottom line:  the pineapple dust-up showcases one of the more egregious examples of poor test questions.  There have been others and there will be more.  Do we really want to base serious decisions about teachers and kids on whether pineapples have sleeves?




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