New York's Children Are Being Judged On Senseless Questions With No Real Answers

On Friday, we heard about the nonsensical question involving a talking pineapple that was featured on the New York State English Language Arts test, which was recently administered to grades three through eight. But according to a letter that one angry New York City principal sent to the state education commissioner last week, the whole ELA test is chock full of weird questions that no one understands. Maybe a teacher will leak it to us?

Last week, the New York Daily News reported on the bizarre pineapple-and-the-hare question—a pineapple challenged a hare to a race; the hare ate the pineapple—that had teachers and students stumped. That's moderately scary, since the answers to the ELA affect students' educational careers, their teachers' actual careers, and even the future existence of some schools. But it's just one question, right?

Not according to Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of P.S. 321 in Brooklyn. On Friday, Phillips wrote an angry letter to New York Education Commissioner John King Jr., complaining that there are "many more flawed questions" than usual in this year's raft of ELA tests. Many questions on the fourth grade test, for instance, were "nothing short of ridiculous":

Several of them were ambiguous and seemed designed only to trick children (and adults….the answers were not clear to many of us). Overall, the questions did not serve to determine whether or not children had good reading comprehension skills....

I would also urge you to actually do the listening section of grade 3 (first part of day 2). Have someone read aloud this incredibly thin, brief passage two times as required and then see if you can answer the questions, including the short and extended responses, without looking at the text (since kids are not permitted to look at this text). The questions are not really ones that you can answer well from the text, even if it is sitting in front of you and you can refer back.

The problems extended to middle school tests, too.

Because I am an elementary school principal, I do not see the middle school exams. However, a middle school principal from outside of New York City wrote this to me after day one: "[T]here were so many questions that contained answer choices where the ELA teachers could not decide which answer would be 'best'. I felt terrible for my children, especially for my English Language Learners and my special education students." And 8th graders, who really can't be controlled in terms of not talking about the test, are having a field day on the internet mocking what appears to be one of the most ridiculous selections ever included on a test....

These exams are so deeply flawed, and now so incredibly high stakes. The idea that teachers may lose their jobs and schools (at least in New York City) may be closed based on how children do on these problematic exams is incredibly upsetting and demoralizing to educators.

Do you have access to the 2012 New York ELA tests? Send them along! We'd love to hear the stupid, horrible, fundamentally unanswerable questions that private educational contractors have crafted to help faceless bureaucrats determine our childrens' future economic viability. And we'll publish them to render them unusable in future tests. Smash the system!

Send tips/tests to me here.

[Image via AP]