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April 22, 2012

Is this a joke?

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

For New York 8th graders and their teachers (both of whom will be measured against this and other potentially preposterous questions) it sure isn’t.

But perhaps that’s how it started: as a prank (or other statement) by an underpaid, disgruntled standardized test question writer.

Testing reading (in)comprehension

What I’m talking about are two reading comprehension questions based on an inane story loooooosely based on Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare." In an article on the controversy over the reading prompt (which makes no sense), the New York Daily News quotes many a smart person and – remarkably – no one gives the answer. As an educated adult, I certainly can’t figure it out. But perhaps neither I nor anyone else was ever meant to.

A critique of high-stakes testing?

A while back, an education book written by a recovering standardized test writing and scoring professional landed on my shelf. It’s called Making the Grades, and author Todd Farley is candid about his former role in and his current loathing for the growing importance of these tests. The entire industry that’s popped up around writing and scoring tests – like the $32 million Pearson got for writing test questions like the possible joke in question (reprinted below, I promise – and no, I didn’t forget a decimal in that outrageous sum) - is “ludicrous,” Farley writes.

The self-described slacker who fell into a job writing test questions and scoring kids’ results (and sadly, helping to determine fates for kids and teachers far and wide) continues:

“If you knew what I knew, you’d agree: I have seen testing companies regularly forgo accuracy and ethics in the name of expediency and profit; I have seen psychometricians who barely speak the language making final decisions about our students’ understanding of English; I have seen hordes and hordes of mostly unemployed people being hired as temporary workers to give the scores that will ultimately decide the futures of our students, teachers, and schools.”

The craziest test question ever

So perhaps accuracy was forgone on this one – and maybe the person who wrote it just didn’t give a damn that day, was just trying to meet a quota, was making a statement about the inanity of standardized testing. Or maybe it’s a simple cut and paste error. Whatever it is, it’s not serving the kids or teachers of New York. So here’s the question – can you answer it? Like I said, I can’t.

The Pineapple and the Hare

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.

Here are two of the questions:

1. Why did the animals eat the pineapple?
a. they were annoyed
b. they were amused
c. they were hungry
d. they wanted to

2. Who was the wisest?
a. the hare
b. moose
c. crow
d. owl


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Yep, that's the one. I read a few responses by the author online today, too. Thanks for posting this link. It's interesting to learn how this comes about, isn't it?

I took that test it is thrown out(those questions not graded)

I took that test. The story is stupid. I'm glad they are not counting the story!

I have a feeling this is what happens when we let the publishing industry ship all the jobs overseas. Text books that were once produced in the U.S., by natives to the language are now managed by people making less than $10 an hour where English might be their second or third language. Context is not always readily apparent.

I took that test too! I think it is stupid

The comments to this entry are closed.


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