Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Pineapple and the Hare: Pearson's absurd, nonsensical ELA exam, recycled endlessly throughout country

There was a ridiculous passage on Tuesday’s 8th grade NY State ELA exam about a Pineapple and a Hare, along with some equally absurd questions.  Here is a comment about the passage from a student:

I had this same story for my 8th grade ELA New York state test! Everybody was talking about it afterward & how it didn't make any sense. I read the story at least 5 times over because i was so confused and the story made no sense to me! Also, the questions that came after it was confusing!

Apparently, the same reading passage and associated questions have been recycled by Pearson for standardized exams in Florida, Illinois, Delaware, New Mexico, Arkansas, Alabama, and perhaps other states, causing huge confusion among students for at least the last seven years. 
There is even a Facebook page about this absurd reading passage and the ridiculous questions that students have been asked about it since 2006; as well as commentary and discussion since 2007 on this blog: In the Break Room: Pineapples Don't Have Sleeves.
Here is the original post of an Illinois parent, named Bryan, in 2007: “Who picks the stories for the ISAT [Ilinois Standardized Achievement Test]? was someone all alone in a dark room, petulantly muttering "I'll show 'em!" 
As another student wrote in 2008 , “The pineapple story is... astounding. How could this even make it past the school board?! Who thought, "Hey! This story makes TOTAL sense?”
In 2009, a different student wrote: “We had this on our eighth grade SATs. It was completely pointless, and none of the answer choices were straightforward. It was insane. “
Another wrote, the same year, “I had that story on my testing today (in Arkansas) i thought it was so stupid, me and my friends couldn't keep ourselves from laughing. seriously, the moral of the story is that pineapples don't have sleeves? That’s nice."
In 2010, a student wrote, “We had the same question on the Delaware Student Testing Program, Delaware’s state test! I was so confused!
And another the same year, “It's on the Alabama test too! When I read it, I just put down random answers since I had no clue.  I'm still confused about the WHOLE thing.
And an Arkansas student the same year, “I had to read this story recently for the Arkansas SAT9 test. I am in the eighth grade and it took every ounce of will power i had to not either a) bust out laughing, or b) yell out "what is this???" in the middle of the test... This was one of the stupidest stories I have ever had to read for a standardized test... though it was definitely the talk of the school after we took the test and everyone got different answers to the questions because, lets face it, there were no good answers... “
And on and on and on. 
Here is the author’s response after being asked about this “random and pointless” story in 2006:
March 22nd, 2006
From: Aaron Smith
Mr. Pinkwater,
This past week we have been taking the ISAT tests (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) and on the reading portion they published on of your stories. That story was "The Pineapple and the Hare." I personally enjoyed it because I like random, pointless stories. Unfortunately, we are not legally allowed to copy any part of the test book. What I am asking from you, is if it would be possible to send me an email with that story, or if possible, a signed copy to my home address.
Daniel replies:
I don't have a copy--don't even remember writing it. Evidently I knocked it out for money from whoever makes up those tests. The good news is that all of my stories are random and pointless.
Here, again, is the story if you’d like to read it.
From various reports, these appear to be two of the questions:  
Why did the animals eat the pineapple?
a. they were annoyed
b. they were amused
c. they were hungry
d. they wanted to
            Who was the wisest animal?
a.    the hare
b.    the moose
c.     The crow
d.    The owl

The ONLY right answer is Pearson; for getting paid $32 million from NY State for these recycled, annoying and pointless exams, which the NY Times said they had promised to be "less tricky"! Not to mention the millions of dollars the company is reaping from selling the associated test prep materials in our state.  [See also comments from teachers and principals about how confusing and ambiguous the ELA exams  were in other grades this year.]

 As a NYS student wrote on Tuesday:
I also took the test today, and it also baffled me. ….Unfortunately, this was an atrocious question. All the options have substantial evidence that can bolster them. With any luck, this portion of the examination was a field test and did not count.
But why put a reading passage with questions so nonsensical on a state standardized exam, either as a “field test” question or for any other purpose? Especially given the high-stakes nature of these exams, which will be used in NYC to decide which students to hold back, the school's grade on the progress reports, and in the near future, as in integral part of the new statewide teacher evaluation system.
A story that makes no sense and with questions that apparently have no right answer could wreck the confidence of any student on the first day of a strenuous three day ELA exam –was this what it was designed to do so?
 As another  NY student wrote two days ago:
 i also had this for nys ela test and the only thing anyone could talk about today was Who was the wisest? even some of the teachers got into the debate! i choose the moose bc he seemed the wisest but i still dont get it and no1 else does, not even my ela teacher! It seems like it was written by a 4th grader i thought it was a joke when i first read it. oh well looks like everyones gonna b in ais [Academic Intervention Services] English next year....


Fred Smith said...

Leonie Strikes Again.

So the Pineapple is a Pearson item that had been used by them in various states under contract to different SED's. It looks likes they have worked out an amazing scheme to dominate education--developing items along the way, owned by Pearson, paid for by one or another state, and then re-sold and re-sold by Pearson to other states for field testing or operational test use.

Who cares if the quality of the item is low... they have become a self-perpetuating monopoly that will sell text books, curriculum packages, test preparation materials, and scoring services throughout the land, along with the information management systems Race To The Top is extorting states to put in place in order to ensure accountability.

Em said...

Don't forget that on the state test, at the end of the story it said "Moral of the story: Pineapples don't have sleeves"

Anonymous said...

The story on the link is not the exact story that was on the test. It looks like a students' rewrite of the story and has that students' thinking embedded in.

Anonymous said...

The real sad part of this story is the importance we place on this ridiculous exam and the harm it does to everyone involved in education. We need to spend more time teaching and less time testing,not worrying about the validity of each item placed on this test.

Anonymous said...

Bloomberg should be asked to read this story & answer those ridiculous questions.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you! Bloomberg should be asked to read the story and answer those stupid questions. It took me like 10 mins to answer these stupid questions. I hope it doesn't count and it was like a field test.

lily said...

i am in 7th grade in NYC and i just took the state tests too...and there were definitely questions on book 2 that could have had several answers!!!
i bet if i was in eighth grade i would be laughing if i read this passage!
these tests are so stupid. they do not test any knowledge. they will never count for anything. no one, in lets say, 20 years, is going to ask you how you did on your 7th or 8th grade standardized tests. no one! and that is why the amount of pressure that students are put under to do well on these tests is so silly and horrible! in the end, this will never count! for anything! it won't matter!!
the point of school is to learn, and not to spend half the year on prepping for a silly state test that will not be of any use in the future.
i don't even think kids that are trying to get into good colleges go through this amount of stress. AND IT MOST DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT BE THIS WAY!!!

Anonymous said...

I remember this one. When I finished reading this, I was cracking up on the inside; I couldn't laugh out loud because I was in the middle of the test. Personally, I loved this story, and I believe that this story wasn't as confusing, despite what others say. Basically, it's just saying not to overestimate things at times. Stories don't always have to have a point to it, they can be written just to entertain. The questions for the story were actually pretty easy, like the rest of the test.

Long Live Young Larry! said...

The reason Daniel Pinkwater didn't remember writing the Pineapple and the Hare was that...he didn't write The Pineapple and the Hare. He wrote a novel in which one character related having been told the story of an eggplant and a rabbit. Pearson "adapted" that story into the P & the H (decimating the original's economy of wit, I might add).

It would be great if you corrected the misattribution. He's a brilliant writer who shouldn't be maligned by Pearson's rapacity.

(My info fr WSJ interview with Pinkwater.)

Leonie Haimson said...

He did write the original story that was adapted for this use.

meicah said...

I got c and d

Anonymous said...

You just being contrary about the questions, or are you really that stupid?

Tom L said...

Fantastic insight from a 7th grader, too bad the powers that be aren't as insightful

Long Live Young Larry said...

Leonie, you wrote: "If you would like to read the nonsensical story, by Daniel Pinkwater, it is online." You do not say "adapted from", you say "by." Those are not equivalent, and I would argue that you would BOLSTER your point by the correction because it shows that Pearson couldn't even recognize that they made the story SO much worse by the adaptation. And also, well, it's just true that The Pineapple and the Hare isn't by Pinkwater but someone else paid by Pearson! If folks want to read the actual Pinkwater excerpt from his novel Borgel (not a standalone story) here it is: The Story of the Rabbit and the Eggplant

Once there was a race between a rabbit and an eggplant. Now, the eggplant, as you know, is a member of the vegetable kingdom, and the rabbit is a very fast animal.

Everybody bet lots of money on the eggplant, thinking that if a vegetable challenges a live animal with four legs to a race, then it must be that the vegetable knows something.

People expected the eggplant to win the race by some clever trick of philosophy. The race was started, and there was a lot of cheering. The rabbit streaked out of sight.

The eggplant just sat there at the starting line. Everybody knew that in some surprising way the eggplant would wind up winning the race.

Nothing of the sort happened. Eventually, the rabbit crossed the finish line and the eggplant hadn’t moved an inch.

The spectators ate the eggplant.

Moral: Never bet on an eggplant.

Anonymous said...

Im a Straight A 9th grade english student and this story does not make any sense. The moral is complete bullshit. This story is a rip off from the Tortoise and the Hare. Not even. The moral of the story makes no sense and if you had any common sense, you would know that pineapples can't move. This story never said that the pineapple could move. It only said that the animals and fruits could talk. The author never said anything about the fruits being able to move. This story in invalid and should not be on any type of New York State ELA test. This story should not count on this ELA test. I feel bad for all the 8th graders who had to go through this.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't anyone see the senseless violence here. Ithe pineapple could talk, it was magical. So they killed it and ate it. Did it scream and plead for its life?

Patrick J. Sullivan said...

NY State Commissioner John King has sought an end to the pineapplegate debacle by removing the passage and associated questions from what will be counted in the scoring. But rather than simply take responsibility for the poor quality of the test he was sure to deflect some criticism onto a "committee of teachers from across the state" who purportedly reviewed the questions. It seems those who preach accountability don't like to be held accountable themselves.

Here's his statement:

Here's a link to the version used on the test:

Patrick J. Sullivan said...

On Twitter, reform ace @GideonStein has been insisting in an I'm-the-smartetst-kid-in-the-class style that the passage is totally appropriate and the questions are easy. I don't buy it.

The NY Ed Dept says the owl was the wisest but what did he really say, that the pineapple had no sleeves? That's obvious.

The hare saw through the nonsense from the outset although he was a bit brash. Is he wise? Wise like a hedge fund guy.

The coyote is actually the creature who could have beaten the hare handily. And coyotes are clever. But notice how he simply places the pineapple on the starting line. He gets it, the whole Taoist nature of the pineapple's non-action. The coyote understands the pineapple can win the race without running. He's the wisest.

lily said...

Thank you

Yes, it would be very nice if they would be a little more understanding and insightful of how much stress we go under to take these silly tests.

Anonymous said...

See, the thing here, guys, is that stories don't have to have a point! I'm a short story writer, and I often make funny, random short stories with an irrelevant moral at the end. I thought the story was funny and clever, as it had a nice twist to an old folktale. I LIKE IT, PERIOD!

Anonymous said...

This is a tragic waste of time - the students are forced to take these ridiculous exams and teachers spend time out of class grading them. How ridiculous. Even though the passage is dropped from the scoring - how many kids wasted their exam time trying to figure it out? How many kids didn't spend enough time on other passages because they wasted time on this? What a colossal failure.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to go ahead and suggest that there is way too much drug usage by professional educators.

That story is nonsensical, not clever. The only thing more absurd than the story itself are the questions, which were obviously written by the author. It's as if somebody stripped Lewis Carrol of his wit and he was only dependent on the opium.

Nobody, I repeat nobody, in their right mind should have allowed this to end up on a standardized test. A national embarrassment.