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Pineapples Don’t Have Sleeves – New York 8th Grade ELA Exam

If you’re confused by the title of this post, don’t worry.  You’re not alone.  The 8th grade New York ELA exam last month included a passage entitled “The Hare and the Pineapple,” a nonsensical story patterned after Aesop’s well-known version.  See here for a copy of the story and associated questions.  In the middle school where I teach, students were equal parts baffled and annoyed.  When the wider public caught wind, the ensuing uproar was dubbed “Pineapplegate.”  Pearson, the maker of the NY state test, had this to say in defense of the passage.As a teacher who already has concerns about widespread standardized testing starting in third grade, I take issue with the whole thing on a number of levels.  First, even I had trouble deciding what the “correct” answer was for several of the questions.  I earned a perfect score on the ACT.  I actually enjoy taking standardized tests.  So when I’m baffled by a question on an 8th grade English test, I assume it’s not me.  It’s the test.

Second, I wonder what sort of accountability Pearson has for their testing materials.  Considering the company just won a $32.1 million contract to provide testing materials for the next several years, it seems that they should provide quality assurance measures.  Perhaps Pearson should pay a $100,000 penalty for each question that needs to be thrown out.  There were several in this year’s math & ELA exams.  (For example, this 5th grade math question was thrown out after teachers realized it was impossible for students to solve.)

Finally, how can we make standardized tests more useful for students and teachers?  As a student, I just see a summarized score of 1 through 4.  For example, what would a “3” really tell me?  Research tells us feedback must be timely to be useful.  Currently the standardized test results come back too late to be useful for students or teachers.  The full breakdown of student results by standard don’t arrive until well after the end of the school year.  And even then, teachers don’t have access to the original questions.  I understand that norm-referenced tests need large samples of data and are often field-tested for validity.  But more transparency would be wholly appropriate and ease concerns of all parties involved.  (Except perhaps the testing company.)

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