Questionable contract?

If you want to volunteer for our Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, or have a tip to share, please email us at

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Another Pineapple? Talking snake shows that secrets are hard to keep about the flawed NYS exams

Today’s NY Times e focuses on a just-released question on last spring's 3rd grade ELA exam about a talking African snake that more than half of 3rd graders couldn’t answer and even stumped the author of the passage, Saviour Pirotta.  The story is called "Secrets are Hard to Keep."

Peter Afflerbach, a professor of education, also couldn't figure out the "right" answer. Dennis Tompkins, spokesperson from the NY State Education Department, responded to the reporter this way, "The fact that nearly half the test takers got the two more difficult questions right... showed that “apparently they could handle this.” 
More sample questions from NY's 2015 3-8th grade exams available here.  I found many of them very difficult to answer.
One teacher remarked:  
"I looked quickly at the 7th grade exam:  the percent answered correct on the questions is really bad.  If I have those type of results I toss out the question and give all my students credit because either the question is crap, or I did not teach the material well.  Wonder what the embargoed questions looked like..."
Truly, if the sample questions are this bad, just imagine how the questions the state refuses to release must be.

Clearly, the NY state tests are an illegitimate way to evaluate kids, schools and teachers – as shown by the fact that the author of the relevant passage on the 3rd grade exam had a hard time answering the questions.  These tests are designed to make it look like the vast majority of the state's students and schools are failing, when they are not.  Until the state comes out with better exams – and a teacher evaluation system not linked to them – parents will continue to opt out in growing numbers.
Please take a look and comment on the sample questions below.


Jeff Nichols said...

Is there any rational justification for administering secret tests to children? I can't imagine one, which is one if several reasons my wife and I won't permit our children to take the state tests. NYSED must release ALL questions immediately after tests are administered, so children, parents and teachers can discuss and learn from the tests' content. Otherwise the tests must be rejected as inappropriate instruments of control that simply have no place in the education of a free citizenry.

Douglas Green said...

Part of the problem is that the best questions from the test maker's point of view are the ones that discriminate rather than the ones that help us know what the students know. The purpose is to sort kids rather than find out what they know. I doubt that even the corporate/political reformers understand this as they can understand the psychometricians either.

Clyde Gaw said...

Manufacturing failure with contrived trick assessment questions that have nothing to do with unlocking a child's innate desire to learn.

Tom Hoffman said...

I wrote a post about one of the 8th grade ELA questions:

Anonymous said...

This outrageous item reveals a big flaw in normed tests. If you want to write a test that will distribute the test takers over a 100 percentile range, you have to have a few items that will distinguish between the people at the ends of the range, i.e. several questions that will show the difference between test takers at the 98th percentile and test takers at the 99th percentile and several that will distinguish between the 1st & 2nd percentiles. This means you have to design a few questions that ALMOST everyone will get wrong and a few that ALMOST everyone will get right. These fine distinctions do not matter for instruction, nor, I suspect, for any other ordinary purpose.

The notion that these scores are useful to teachers is nonsense. Teachers need to know how each child is reasoning, and how they understood or misunderstood an assignment. This can best be determined by examining classwork and homework, and through direct interactions with each child. Of course this is why we need small classes, so the teachers can spend time with each learner and help each one understand new concepts and procedures. It also explains why we need experienced teachers - after a few years, an experienced teacher can remember what was difficult for certain learners and what helped them grasp the concept or procedure.
Rosalie Friend, Ph.D.

Jeremiah Wesley said...


Julie Woestehoff said...

Aside from the terrible questions, parents should worry about the content and "moral" of the story -- it's important to keep secrets! That message is reinforced by the questions - if you don't know that it's important to keep secrets, you'll answer incorrectly.

This is not the first instance of corporate education interests using test questions to promote their creepy agenda. See, for example, the scandalous charter school questions PURE exposed a while ago:

Gateway Education said...

It is very frustrating to listen the difficulty level of questions are asked from little kids.At this age, child start building and understanding things in little chunks. There should be strict checking of question papers before exams.It introduces negativity in students.I am also running an engineering college in Delhi, India. At this point of time ,all senses works correctly.We can assign complex problems.