Saturday, April 28, 2012

NYS ELA Test: The Pineapple Controversy

If you haven't heard about the controversy surrounding the NYS 8th grade English Language Arts (ELA) test, read on. The test included a reading comprehension passage that is both absurd and incomprehensible.

Here’s the story:

In the olden times, animals could speak English, just like you and me. There was a lovely enchanted forest that flourished with a bunch of these magical animals. One day, a hare was relaxing by a tree. All of a sudden, he noticed a pineapple sitting near him.
The hare, being magical and all, told the pineapple, “Um, hi.” The pineapple could speak English too.
“I challenge you to a race! Whoever makes it across the forest and back first wins a ninja! And a lifetime’s supply of toothpaste!” The hare looked at the pineapple strangely, but agreed to the race.
The next day, the competition was coming into play. All the animals in the forest (but not the pineapples, for pineapples are immobile) arranged a finish/start line in between two trees. The coyote placed the pineapple in front of the starting line, and the hare was on his way.
Everyone on the sidelines was bustling about and chatting about the obvious prediction that the hare was going to claim the victory (and the ninja and the toothpaste). Suddenly, the crow had a revolutionary realization.
“AAAAIEEH! Friends! I have an idea to share! The pineapple has not challenged our good companion, the hare, to just a simple race! Surely the pineapple must know that he CANNOT MOVE! He obviously has a trick up his sleeve!” exclaimed the crow.
The moose spoke up.
“Pineapples don’t have sleeves.”
“You fool! You know what I mean! I think that the pineapple knows we’re cheering for the hare, so he is planning to pull a trick on us, so we look foolish when he wins! Let’s sink the pineapple’s intentions, and let’s cheer for the stupid fruit!” the crow passionately proclaimed. The other animals cheered, and started chanting, “FOIL THE PLAN! FOIL THE PLAN! FOIL THE PLAN!”
A few minutes later, the hare arrived. He got into place next to the pineapple, who sat there contently. The monkey blew the tree-bark whistle, and the race began! The hare took off, sprinting through the forest, and the pineapple …
It sat there.
The animals glanced at each other blankly, and then started to realize how dumb they were. The pineapple did not have a trick up its sleeve. It wanted an honest race — but it knew it couldn’t walk (let alone run)!
About a few hours later, the hare came into sight again. It flew right across the finish line, still as fast as it was when it first took off. The hare had won, but the pineapple still sat at his starting point, and had not even budged.
The animals ate the pineapple.

(Test takers were then asked why the animals ate the pineapple, and which of the animals was the wisest. Both answers were multiple choice.)

The ELA test is part of the 3-8 testing that is supposed to help determine if teachers are effective and if students have shown adequate growth in learning. Student performance on these tests will now be part of the teacher evaluation system in schools in NYS. Really, is it asking too much for these tests to be well-written, age-appropriate, and well-thought-out?  It is maddening to think that NCS Pearson, the company that is getting $32 million dollars over five years to develop these tests, has not hired test writers intelligent enough to craft appropriate tests. It is worth reading the articles in the following links:

Read what Diane Ravitch, from the National Education Policy Center and NYU Education professor, has to say about it.

This second link is about unchecked school reform and is an open letter from a group of NY state principals.

Finally, read about Pearson, the vendor that produced the test.

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