Wise animals and ambiguous pineapples

nysed test pineapple hare illustration

Noted: Pineapples don't have sleeves.

Weird, a little funny, and maybe flecked with insight: The state Education Department found itself caught recently in a kerfuffle regarding test questions about a talking pineapple on an 8th grade English Language Arts standardize test. Yep, a talking pineapple. [NYT]

The passage -- based on a bit from Daniel Pinkwater's Borgel -- tells the story of a pineapple that bets a group of animals that it can beat a hare in a race. (Spoilers!) The pineapple loses and the animals eat the pineapple.

The full passage and questions are after the jump.

Two of the questions on the reading comprehension test -- about why the animals ate the pineapple, and which animal was wisest -- prompted complaints from teachers, parents, and students because, you know... there's not a clear answer. That's a problem on a multiple choice test. [NYDN]

On Friday state ed commissioner John King announced the questions wouldn't be counted "due to the ambiguous nature of the test questions." NYSED says the question was developed by a company called Pearson, has been used in other states, and "the passage and related questions are not reflective of the precision of the entire exam." [NYSED]

After reading the passage and the questions, we didn't think they were necessarily inappropriate for kids that age. Sure, they're ambiguous, but getting a kid to form an argument about why something happens in story where not everything is spelled out seems like a good idea. It's just that this sort of thing doesn't work well on a multiple choice test. The question shouldn't have been "circle one." It should have been "pick one and explain why."

And that highlights one of the (many) tensions right now in education: students, teachers, and schools need to be evaluated -- but doing so can be difficult, and often doesn't scale well.

Earlier on AOA: Capital Region elementary school test scores 2011

The test passage and questions as shared by NYSED:

NYSED the Hare and the Pineapple

illustration via NYSED test


Obviously it was a con. The other animals were placing bets on the pineapple. Who were they placing the bets with? The hare. When the race was over, the animals ate the pineapple, not realizing that the animal behind the scheme was the hare.

Next week, the hare will move on to another forest, find another patsy pineapple and do the con all over again. He'll be a very rich hare.

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