Sometimes it happens that way. A single insipid test question has sparked a rebellion and shone a light, not only on current standardized testing practices, but on the whole testing industry and its leading profiteer, Pearson Publishing.
The N.Y. Times reports:
Anti-testing activists have taken up the cudgel, saying that the passage and the multiple-choice questions associated with it perfectly illustrate the absurdity of standardized testing. And by Friday afternoon, the state education commissioner had decided that the questions would not count in students’ official scores.For its part, Pearson took a passage from Daniel Pinkwater's nonsensical story, The Hare and the Pineapple, distorted it and then asked N.Y. 8th-graders some stupid, irrelevant multiple-choice questions for which there were no right answers. As Pinkwater explains:
I was caught up in the brouhaha that arose from an excerpt from a book of mine, edited out of any resemblance to what I wrote, and included in what was described to me as a “high stakes” test administered to all the eighth-graders in New York....On the test, the story makes even less sense, (less sense than nonsense? Yes! I wouldn’t have thought it was possible), and then . . . get ready . . . there are multiple choice questions the kids are supposed to answer."In fact, the pineapple questions were essentially no different that many others that appear on standardized tests. Pinapple-gate would even be humorous if thousands of children's futures didn't hang in the balance.The response from the DOE was to pull the embarrassing question off the test. Officials, including Arne Duncan, have claimed all along that the only real problem with the current high-stakes, standardized-testing craze was that some of the tests were poorly written and that we need "better tests."
So, in response to revelations that the state exams had become predictable and easier to pass, the state awarded a new $32 million contract to testing company Pearson to overhaul their own tests. A kind of merit pay in reverse. The new exams have higher stakes for principals and teachers statewide, whose performance evaluations will be based in part on student scores, beginning as soon as this year.
Scarsdale Middle School Principal Michael McDermott said the question has been used before and “confused students in six or seven different states.” And he had a quick answer to the question of who is the wisest: “Pearson for getting paid $32 million for recycling this crap.”The past week has seen education leaders and organizations around the country step forward and demand an end to Duncan's current testing policies under Race To The Top. They include the National School Board Association, whose president, Mary Broderick, wrote a letter to President Obama telling him that "we have swung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children...Students are numbing over testing for testing’s sake…"
Mr. President, public education in the U.S. is on the wrong track. As we have moved decision-making farther from teachers and children, we have jeopardized our competitive edge and keys to our national success: our ingenuity, our openness to innovation, and our creativity.Another significant anti-testing statement came from the the National Asian American Education Advocates Network.
Standardized testing should not be used to penalize schools or jeopardize students by cutting resources, or hastily shut down or drastically restructure schools. Instead, it should be one of a variety of ways to assess curricula, identify groups with special needs, and inform solutions based on providing resources rather than imposing sanctions.The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss reports that in Texas, New York, Illinois and other states, protests by parents and educators are getting louder against school reform that insists on using standardized test scores as the basis for evaluating students, educators and schools. She adds that a national resolution protesting high-stakes standardized testing was released Tuesday "by a coalition of national education, civil rights and parents groups, as well as educators who are trying to build a broad-based movement against the Obama administration’s test-centric school reform program."
As groups begin to gather and make plans for future actions, #Pineapplerebellion is going viral on Twitter and the pineapple has become a symbol for the growing movement against high-stakes, standardized testing and current policies associated with Secretary Duncan's DOE and corporate-style reform. Pearson is also becoming a symbol for corporate profiteering at the expense of the nation's children.
The national SOS Platform Convention, Aug. 3-5 in D.C., will provide a focal point for the Pineapple Rebellion with platform planks on testing and teacher evaluation already being drawn up by affiliated organizations.
******An article in the Miami Herald shows the lengths and expense to which districts have been forced to go in order to secure their testing systems. As a teacher who insists that my students "cheat" (meaning collaborate and work in teams on problem-solving), I couldn't help but chuckle at this statement:
“We don’t want students to come out of a test and perhaps memorize questions or share or discuss questions with students who may not have tested yet,” said Tom Ewing, spokesman for ETS, which administers the SAT for the College Board.I can't help but wonder what's next. Will the Florida National Guard be mobilized to help secure FCAT testing? Maybe they can bring the SEAL Team that killed Bin Laden home. They could handle it.
Also worth a read is Michael Winerip's wonderful NYT piece, Facing a Robo-Grader? Just Keep Obfuscating Mellifluously, a response to a recently released study has concluded that computers are capable of scoring essays on standardized tests as well as human beings do.