The Pineapple, the Hare, and Test Quality
An absurd reading passage from the New York State 8th-grade English exam was published in a local paper, along with the inscrutable questions that followed it. The passage, described as “a non-sense story” by its original author, is about a talking pineapple racing a hare.
The passage is bizarre, and the questions that follow (“The animals ate the pineapple most likely because they were …”) are virtually meaningless. You can catch up on all the details in this story from the NY Daily News.
This is yet another public embarrassment for those in charge of creating, screening, and overseeing standardized testing. The outcry in the wake of this episode has elicited a predictable response from the NYS testing commissioner: the associated questions will not be counted because of their “ambiguous nature”. (Here is the official statement.)
I call this predictable because we’ve seen this type of response in the past. When inexcusably erroneous math questions appeared on a NYS Regents exam, an embarrassing sequence of events ultimately led to removing the question because of variations in usage. There was no real admission that an error had been made, and the test (and indeed, the question itself) were both steadfastly defended.
Such issues seem to be remarkably common. In studying NYS Math Regents Exams, we routinely see erroneous, poorly-constructed, ambiguous, and meaningless questions, but such incidents rarely garner much attention. What’s different here is the publicity this particular story is getting.
In this era of high-stakes testing, hopefully this incident will get more people thinking about the question, “Are these tests any good?”