Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Everyone Missed on the Pineapple Question

Collins was set off by Pineapplegate, which turns out to be a tempest in a teapot as Andy Rotherham points out:

When the New York Daily News posted an article about an Aesop-inspired fable that appeared on the standardized test eighth graders in New York state had to take last month — about a pineapple challenging a hare to a foot race through the forest — all hell broke loose because the passage was so poorly written and the questions about it so incomprehensible. The fable described several animals assuming that the pineapple must have a trick up its sleeve that would enable the immobile fruit to win the race, and when they discovered that it didn't, they ate it. Test-takers were asked: Why did they eat the pineapple? The correct answer: because the animals were annoyed. And who was the wisest of the animals? An owl that was never mentioned in the passage. Anti-testing activists responded with fury that this set of questions showed why standardized testing is worthless. New York officials quickly turned tail and tossed out the pineapple passage, declaring that they would not count it on this year's test and would not use it in the future.

There was just one problem: much of the uproar was based on bad information.

Who screwed up in Pineapplegate? There is plenty of blame to go around various parties, and their roles in this debacle illuminate many of the bigger problems facing education reform today. Where to begin? Let's start with:

The media. Standardized tests are closely guarded to prevent cheating, so when the Daily News ran its story, the reading passage and accompanying questions had never before been made public. The newspaper apparently plucked the information off of anti-testing online message boards – always a reliable source, right? The passage the paper ran was so poorly written that it would indeed have been inexcusable. Tests are shoddy, case closed! Except that the passage the Daily News published on April 19 was not the actual one on the test; it was an incomplete paraphrase, leaving out such things as — you guessed it — the owl.

As the article went viral, the Daily News posted a new version of its story with the correct passage but didn't run a correction. The paper only mentioned, toward the end of a follow-up story it ran the next day, that there were "slight variations" between the version it had published and what was on the state test. (Click here for the actual passage.) NPR called the Daily News on this sleight of hand, but elsewhere people continued to react to the initial paraphrase, and the story took on a life of its own.

(Here's a link to the Pearson memo rebutting Pineapplegate: http://ideas.time.com/2012/05/04/pineapplegate-exclusive-memo-detailing-the-hare-and-the-pineapple-passage)


School of Thought

What Everyone Missed on the Pineapple Question

Much of the uproar about the reading comprehension test was based on bad information

By Andrew J. Rotherham | @arotherham | May 4, 2012 | 3


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