Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pineapplegate in The Wave

My April 27 column.


Pineapplegate, Or The Pineapple That Ate Pearson
By Norm Scott

Choose the best answer: a)Test  b)Teach.
It is test mania throughout the land and the natives are restless over the onslaught of high stakes standardized tests. Eighth-graders taking the state’s English Language Arts assessment had to answer six questions based on a bizarre and incomprehensible passage modified from an original Daniel Pinkwater story featuring a talking pineapple that challenges a hare to a race. The populace is wondering what the pineapple has up its sleeve. Well, every 8th grader knows that pineapples can’t run and they should be expected to know that pineapples have no sleeves, the answer to one of the questions, by the way. Shhhhh. Don’t tell as this same passage may come up again, as it did on tests in other states. More irrelevant multiple-choice questions for which there are no right answers.

Pearson, the company that has become a mega-giant making big bucks by helping push high stakes testing on all levels was paid $32 million on this contract. For all that swag they should have included a free pineapple with every test booklet. I can understand high school kids taking important tests for college but 3rd graders and below being subjected to this kind of pressure? This came in from a NYC parent: THIS FALL, KINDERGARTENERS SITTING FOR STANDARDIZED TESTS? Mine can't sit for breakfast. A friend of mine is 7 months pregnant and I’ve been begging her to walk around with a sign on her belly saying, “Quiet please, testing.”

People opposed to the testing dictators, or the “standardistas” as famed educator Susan Ohanian refers to them, have been having lots of fun with this while also building a case against the impact of these tests which do nothing to help teachers teach kids (since the results come back at the end of the year) but are used instead to punish students, teachers, schools and entire school systems. Rather than write a full piece describing the reaction, I’ll just let some headlines from the many blogs that dealt with this tell the story.

Accountability in the Age of the Pineapple (NYC Parents who opted their child out of the tests).
Pineapple Rebellion in full swing: 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 (Mike Klonsky).
State Education Commissioner John King Jr. defended the passage, but said that these questions wouldn’t count (Gotham Schools).
Yong Zhao, godfather of the anti-testing movement ---  “absurd, but unavoidable in standardized tests. Here is an item in the first grade Chinese language test in Shanghai -Bees, birds, rabbits, and pandas are all animals. Which one is different from the other three? If you don't know the answer-- it is supposed to be Panda, according to the test maker, because pandas need be cared in a zoo, while the other three do not.”
NYC principal opting her own children out of testing.
The Pineapple and the Hare: Pearson's absurd, nonsensical ELA exam, recycled endlessly throughout country (NYC Parent blog)
Fresh off “pineapple” episode, state identifies math exam errors (Gotham Schools)
Dear parents:  I hate to tell you, but there’s news today of more mistakes on the NY State’s 4th and 8th grade math exams. Shouldn’t Pearson, who wrote these tests, lose their $32 Million contract over this?  Given last week’s example of Pineapplegate, where ’s the accountability for Pearson and the NYS Education Department? --- Leonie Haimson

A statement has been adopted by more than 360 school boards in Texas and a dozen other national education, civil rights, parent and religious groups launched a National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing. It calls on federal, state and local policymakers to reduce standardized test mandates and, instead, base school accountability on multiple forms of measurement. 1400 NY State principals signed on to it --- http://goo.gl/CyM5K

The National Education Association signed onto the anti-testing resolution along with 80 other organizations (as of April 24). But not Randi Weingarten’s AFT/UFT. Ho hum. My union is AWOL, as usual.

I’ve been with the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) since its founding in Jan. 2009 and we have been proud to be part of the movement to not only end high stakes testing but to find better ways to judge students, teachers and schools. We formed a committee called Change the Stakes and have an active listserve and blog (changethestakes.wordpress.com) that has attracted many NYC teachers and parents, including a brave group that have opted their kids out of the tests despite threats from some principals to hold their kids back.

Norm’s high stakes blog can be found at ednotesonline.blogspot.com. Read it or face the stakes.

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