The Asbury Park Press reports that the question, which appeared on the statewide New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (ASK), asked students to reveal a secret they had and to explain why it was difficult to keep.
The ASK is a standardized test administered to third through eighth grade students in New Jersey, designed to measure their abilities in math, science, and language arts, and also to elicit the playground's hottest gossip.
Parents—specifically: parents whose children had seen them commit violent, murderous acts—lost it when they found out about this question. New Jersey families, like The Borgias from which they are descended, traffic almost exclusively in secrets and lies. Parents could not have some punk kids blabbing away in their clumsy, unpracticed cursive, the bloody truths they'd already killed so many to conceal.
These famblies are as thick as thieves.
Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, an organization that aims to promote neutrality in standardized testing (a large portion of its website seems devoted to ragging on the SAT and ACT) called the question "idiotic" in an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger.
Then he got creative and really explored his thoughts, exactly as one might hope a child would on the writing portion of a standardized test:
"What if the deep dark secret is molestation, or that your parents are about to get divorced? What kind of mind set is a child left with for the rest of the exam?"
"I think by and large, kids are not going to tell a real secret."
Not because children are so adept at gaming the system (though they totally are, these children, and don't get me started on their texting and sexting), but because they're little kids and wouldn't know a great juicy secret if it smacked them in the face.
Haven't you ever read The Family Circus? They're not all as sharp as Sally Draper.
Engel added that asking kids to talk about a secret is probably a good way to get them to write, which is exactly what you'd want kids to do on the writing portion of a test.
Secrets are, after all, infinitely more interesting than a time when you showed leadership.
A spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Education stated that the question was administered to 4000 children across 15 school districts as part of a vetting process for proposed additions to the test. Students' answers did not have an impact on their scores, but probably did add a little jazz to some test grader's day.
The question will be scrubbed from future exams.
Now here are some assessment questions for you:
1. What state's children do you think would have the best secrets? New Jersey's probably pretty high up there, but Wyoming's kind of a wildcard. Wyoming kids probably have some pretty dark things to share on a standardized test.
2. Would you rather read a book of actual children's secrets collected from these tests, or watch an episode of Law & Order: SVU inspired by the story?
3. What about a book of Seacrest?
4. What's a secret you have and why is it difficult to keep?