Monday, April 23, 2012

Pineapplegate and the media storm that has ensued

Credit: Bramhall Cartoons, Daily News

Here is a rather breathless account of what is now being called Pineapplegate.  I had no idea what a media storm would erupt as a result of Thursday’s blog post.  Please also be sure to fill out this short parent survey about the testing regime in NY State.  If you are a teacher, fill this one out, and if a principal fill this one.  These surveys were developed by the NYS principals who wrote the protest letter to the Commissioner, opposing the new teacher evaluation system.
On Thursday morning, on the train to Washington DC, I posted my piece revealing the absurd Pineapple reading passage and questions on the 8th grade ELA exam. By the time I returned to NYC Friday night, NYS Education Commissioner John King had already released the full passage and its associated questions, and put out a statement, saying the section would not be scored because of their ambiguous nature of the questions.
Ever since, I haven’t had time to catch my breath about the plethora of articles being published about what is now being called Pineapplegate.   There are nearly seventy stories about the issue listed on Google News. 
The first media outlets to jump on the scandal late Thursday night were the Daily News (which credited this blog) and NY1.  By Friday afternoon, the Washington Post and Time magazine had blogged about it, and the Wall St. Journal interviewed Daniel Pinkwater, author of the original story from which the passage on the exam was based.
The NY Times reported on the story on Saturday, and though the reporter credited the Daily News rather than our blog with breaking the story, at least she had the good sense to quote Diane Ravitch and Debbie Meier.  Also on Saturday, the highly conservative Daily News ran an editorial blasting Commissioner King and Regent Merryl Tisch:
Allowing nonsense like “The Pineapple and the Hare” to be placed before New York students, many of whom found it absurd, gave testing foes powerful ammunition to argue that standardized exams cannot be trusted.
Tisch and King must a) get their acts together, b) recognize that they have no margin for error, c) build a consensus that their testing program is excellent, d) all of the above. The right answer is unambiguous and obvious.
The Fordham Institute, right wing home of many of the worst corporate reform ideas, carried a strong critique of the carelessness of NYS and the testing companies for including these indefensible questions, and strengthening the arguments of “anti-testing” advocates like me:
But the real outrage among those of us who care deeply about accountability is why these problems aren’t being caught earlier. For too long we have been focusing our attention on expanding the use of tests to more grades and more subject areas and increasing the consequences tied to the results of these tests without taking a hard look at the uneven quality of the tests themselves….’m sure this story will only add fuel to the anti-testing fire, and frankly, it would be very hard to argue that it shouldn’t. After all, how can we possibly hold students accountable to such poorly written questions aligned to such poorly written prose?
The NY Post reporter chimed in, adding new revelations about complaints rolling in about other passages on other ELA exams this year, including from teachers of deaf kids.
On Sunday, Daniel Pinkwater, the author of the original story, had an oped in the Daily News, calling these world’s dumbest test questions, and saying he got “dirty money” from “sleazy people” in return for allowing them use his story in their tests.
A teacher/blogger put out a clever parody, called The Fruitcake and the Big Banana, about Race to the Top and the damaging policies of the Obama administration.
Newsday reported that because the exams were so long and grueling this year, many students had trouble completing them, and some were so tired that they began to fill in answer sheets at random, a phenomenon known as “bubbling.”
About the only organization not to speak out is Pearson itself, which created these tests, using the same confusing reading passage about the Pineapple and the Hare, and ridiculous, unanswerable questions in at least six other states over SEVEN long years.  And to whose benefit, the NY State Education Department has decided to refuse to disclose their exams, even after students have taken them.
But never fear.  Pearson was paid $32 million for these tests, and the company’s pre-tax profits surged last year by 72%, totaling nearly $1.8 billion.  Meanwhile our school budgets are cut to the bone, class sizes are increasing each year, and our children are subjected to baffling high-stakes and expensive exams, with NO oversight and NO quality control.   Pearson is also spending more on lobbying to further expand their market and ensure that the government encourages even more absurd and unreliable high-stakes tests for years to come.
Oh, and the trip to DC?  I was with a group of Parents Across America representatives from throughout the country, who attended a parent meeting at t the US Department of Education. We also met with Congressional staffers.  Nearly all of these inside-the-beltway officials were absolutely clueless about how outraged parents have become about the expansion of high-stakes testing in their children’s schools, and the hugely negative effect it has had.
Clearly, a revolution is brewing, but whether the corporate reformers will have the sense to realize and step back before it is too late is still uncertain.  Perhaps only the Pineapple knows for sure, and he’s not talking.  As one teacher tweeted over the weekend, Pearson has moved it to an undisclosed location.
See also video from WABC news below.  And don’t forget to take these parent and teacher surveys!


reality-based educator said...

The only thing I would add to your excellent summary is that Commissioner King defended the quality of "The Pineapple and Hare" questions in his NYSED statement, then displaced blame onto a committee of teachers that rubber stamped the tests.

So much for accountability from the man who loves to hold others accountable.

And Governor Cuomo, who wouldn't shut up during the teacher evaluation battle, still hasn't made a statement about the poor quality of the tests his vaunted new evaluation system will be based upon.

Regents Chancellor Tisch has also disappeared after cheearleading for Cuomo's "scientific" and "objective" teacher evaluation system based upon test scores that come from tests with selections like "The Pineapple and the Hare."

Again, two people obsessed with holding other people accountable who refuse any accountability on their own end.

Anonymous said...

Politicians clueless? No way.

Anonymous said...

Leonie, excellent report with fantastic links and resources. You put a lot of effort into what you do and it shows.

Anonymous said...

reality-based educator is right. Cuomo and Tisch have been MIA and barely made any statements about this. Neither has Bloomberg for that matter.

Al B Einstein said...

Where is the mention of the $33 million dollar contract that was awarded to Pearson (who is now being investigated for HOW they got that contract.)

Why is this always brushed under the rug by news organizations? This entire ACCOUNTABILITY campaign is lobbied for by companies who stand to gain. Meanwhile state budgets crumble, teachers are made into villains and taxes go up. It's a travesty and the news just takes the cheap and easy angle on it. Send a guy to get a few quotes and make fun of the exam. Where's the journalism?!

Anonymous said...

Parents, teachers, administrators, and reasonable politicians should start pushing back HARD against this testing craze that is making companies like Pearson rich at the expense of our public education system.

I think that some politicians want to do good and sadly have been persuaded by the testing/accountability rhetoric (they just don't know any better and need to be educated about the negative side-effects of high-stakes testing) and others have been bought outright by corporate $$$.

Anonymous said...

An eye opener... should be required reading for politicians who want to "reform" education!!!!

Anonymous said...

Bravo to the Principal who wrote this letter. Maybe Pearson can give her a share of the $32 million. What a joke.