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'Pineapplegate' Ignites Testing Debate

As a colleague pointed out to me today, 'Pineapplegate'—the uproar about a question on the New York state reading test—isn't going away. So it's high time we blogged about it.

The controversy started when the New York Daily News ran a piece summarizing an "absurd test question about a talking pineapple," which the paper said has confused students, parents, and educators. The Daily News learned about the question—a silly rewrite of the Aesop's fable "The Tortoise and the Hare" in which a pineapple challenges a hare to a foot race—after a parent posted it on her blog.

Our opinion bloggers Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody covered the virtual firestorm, with Ravitch saying it is part of a growing "genuine nationwide revolt" against high-stakes testing.

The New York State Education Department eventually responded to the frenzy by saying it would toss out the test questions.

However, Andrew Rotherham offers arguably the most sensible take on what the Twittersphere has hash-tagged #pineapplegate. In his recent Time.com column, Rotherham explains that "much of the uproar was based on bad information." The original Daily News story that went viral included only a synopsis of the pineapple-hare story—and left out some vital details. The entire story and ensuing questions, available here, are still imperfect but make a lot more sense.

At the same time, Rotherham notes, the NYSED did not do themselves any favors by seemingly admitting guilt right away. He writes:

What these officials should have done was shed some light on the situation, not only by correcting the record more aggressively, but by explaining that nothing makes its way onto standardized tests by accident. Every item on a standardized test is reviewed by testing experts, teachers, and content specialists, and every item has documentation of its background and use. That doesn't mean mistakes aren't made. ... but the process is not a casual one.

As for the tests themselves, he writes:

Standardized tests are neither as bad as their critics make them out to be nor as good as they should be. ... Most of the people commenting in the media about testing—and even many policymakers deciding how these tests will be used or determining what counts as a passing score—have rarely if ever seen the actual assessments. Bottom line: more transparency would defuse some of the hysteria.
While I can't speak for Cody or Ravitch, I know that I haven't seen standardized assessments since I was administering them as a teacher. Regardless, I think Rotherham's on to something: We need to be sure we're using the same critical thinking skills we expect from students when we encounter these unilateral "testing is the only way to go" or "testing is the worst thing that's ever happened to students" types of stories. Would be nice if it were all so cut and dried, but it isn't.
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