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The Pineapple Question Redux

CJ Westerberg, March 13, 2013 12:17 PM


The assessment has become the curriculum.
- Michael Guerriero


Remember last year's pineapple test question controversy?  Well, it's kind of baaack via a post by Michael Guerriero in The New Yorker:

Those with a mind for controversy or whimsy may recall the outrage last year over a certain talking pineapple on the New York State eighth-grade reading exam. The unfortunate pineapple passage was sliced, diced, and served up as an example of all that is wrong with standardized testing.

In December, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle "voted to boycott the Northwest Evaluation Association's Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exam.":
The Garfield teachers are not boycotting all standardized tests. Their complaints, as outlined by Kris McBride, the school''s testing coordinator, are focussed squarely on the MAP, which, as an assessment tool, can be categorized as a low-stakes test: according to the MAP-makers at the N.W.E.A., it is an "interim assessment."

That low-stakes status is precisely the problem, as far as the Garfield teachers are concerned. McBride writes that the students know the test doesn't affect their grades or class standing, so they don't invest much effort in it. And because it is an externally developed assessment, which the teachers say largely fails to align with district and state standards (N.W.E.A. disputes this point), there is no preparation for it. In sum, students are taking an exam that doesn't really count, on material that may or may not be relevant, and producing results that may have nothing to say about them or their future. If you subscribe to the notion that education is preparation for life, then these students have received their first primer on the soul-crushing routines of bureaucracy.

But even though the results are meaningless to the students, this year the Seattle Public Schools began using the tests as a part of the evaluation of its teachers . . .

Aha - we knew there was a rub.  But where is the pineapple?  Well, it reemerges with some of
the most over-used and frustrating advice given to students:

spongebob-pineapple.jpgThe irony of the pineapple question is that its greatest value - the academic discussion it generated - couldn't be measured by the test itself. One of the most prominent themes to emerge in the press coverage of the controversy was that students could easily err if they were to "overthink" the questions. The logical approach in preparing for such exams, then, is to caution students to not burden themselves with an overabundance of thought. Such council is, no doubt, wise in matters of love and basketball, but if there's any environment in which extended deliberation ought to be encouraged, it's the classroom.

And the sad conclusion:

And so the MAP brings us to the very point at which teaching and testing have diverged. When students are forced to take an exam like the MAP two or three times a year so that they can be better prepared for other, more important exams, the assessment is no longer a partner to curriculum. The assessment has become the curriculum. The MAP, and tests like it, are pushing schools past the cliched, bemoaned exercise of "teaching to the test," to a curriculum that simply is the test.

Read full article:  Seattle's Low-Stakes Testing Trap

Related The Daily Riff:
Campbell's Law in Education: Test Scores vs. Accountability

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