NY Reading Test Controversy Highlights Bad Test Questions

A reading passage on one of New York’s standardized English tests has generated a storm of controversy from students, teachers and parents who claim that it doesn’t make any sense.

The passage is here — which involves a fable of a hare and a pineapple — and answers will appear at the bottom of this article for those who want to try it for themselves.

The original version of the passage was written by Daniel Pinkwater, a children’s book writer, and he was paid for the excerpt which was then doctored for the test. He received many irritated emails about the question in the aftermath, noting that some called him a sellout. Mr Pinkwater is himself unimpressed with the questions as set, believing them to be nonsensical.

The passage has been used several times before over a variety of states since 2007 with reports suggesting that previous students were equally baffled by it.

“Given all the negative feedback they got in other states, they should have pulled this story,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and critic of the growth of standardized testing, said Friday.

“When the kids ridicule it when they first read it, you know that something’s wrong here. That’s the scary part.”

While two of the questions (7 and 8) are clearly mildly ambiguous the rest have a clear answer related to reading comprehension. State education commissioner John B. King defended the passage against initial media reports, stating the questions made more sense when compared to the full passage then mere snippets, and that the question had been reused by Pearson to provide a means to test NY students against other states. He has however decided in the wake of negative public reaction that the entire section would not be counted against students.

“It is important to note that this test section does not incorporate the Common Core and other improvements to test quality currently underway,” Mr. King said in a statement, referring to a new teaching curriculum and standards that are being adopted in New York and other states. “This year’s tests incorporate a small number of Common Core field test questions. Next year’s test will be fully aligned with the Common Core.”

This is not the first time that Pearson, a test preparation company with a $32 million contract with New York state to make the exams more rigorous, has been embroiled in controversy.

(The answers to the test are B, C, D, A, D, C)