The Gardening Dog: Another Nonsense Question From New York's Standardized English Tests

Teachers have been responding to our request yesterday for more examples of queer questions from New York's English Language Arts test, which was administered last week to third- through eighth-graders across the state. As a follow-up to the infamous talking pineapple, we have a gardening dog.

In a letter to the state education commissioner complaining about the unanswerable questions popping up on this year's exams, P.S. 321 principal Elizabeth Phillips, singled out a question on the third-grade exam for particular scorn:

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.

After we posted a link to Phillips' letter yesterday, an anonymous teacher wrote in to fill in the details on that particular question:

The listening portion of the 3rd grade test, as Principal Phillips stated, was pretty damn ridiculous. The listening portion was 3 paragraphs long and it was about a runaway dog who wanted to be a gardener. The way you can tell the dog wanted to be a gardener was that the dog just dug up stuff all over the place and nothing more than that. The dog even "planted" a dog treat in place of a flower. The narrator gave the dog back to the owners and the narrator lamented on the dog's digging habits some more. There was no moral or any rhyme or reason why the story was told. The story just ended... as such.

The questions the students had to answer were two short answer responses requiring an answer and two details from the story to support it as well as a long-form essay requiring even more details. Mind you, this is a three paragraph listening section with barely four sentences for each paragraph. I believe one of the essay questions talked about whether you thought the dog will actually be a gardener as well as what will the dog do next. Really weird, nonsensical stuff.

Makes sense! A dog that keeps digging holes obviously wants to be a gardener, right? I mean, why else would a dog bury a treat? What kind of dog—except for the kind that wants to be a gardener—would ever dig a hole?

We haven't been able to lay hands on the actual script and questions, but we're still trying. If you have access to any New York ELA tests, please send them our way.

How can a third-grader prepare for being tested about gardening dogs? According to one parent who emailed us, by practicing bubbles: On more than one occasion, the parent said, their kid was sent home from school with instructions to simply fill in the bubbles on a practice answer sheet. Not in answer to any particular questions, mind you—just to practice how to fill in bubbles.

Keep your tales of standardized mayhem coming.

[Image via Shutterstock]