Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pinkwater and the eggplant, I mean pineapple

All you Daniel Pinkwater fans out there, prepare to have have your jaws dropped over this: a controversy over a Pinkwater story and its test questions in a New York state 8th-grade reader.

The story, which is a rewritten version of a fable from Borgel, is a nonsense takeoff on the tortoise and the hare, so it really should only be read, and certainly should only have quiz questions about it answered, by children who already know the Aesop. (Do today's NY 8th-graders? I have no idea.)

And I agree with the protesting students: most of the questions are ambiguous, to the extent that several answers are equally good. (Link to the actual text is halfway down the article.) If I were setting a quiz on this story, I'd say, "There is no right answer. Pick one, and write a paragraph justifying it," and grade the students on the cogency of their essays. But you can't do that with standardized tests, which suggests the whole episode was misbegotten.

Actually, the test-makers say there's no right answer either. (But they didn't explain that to the students.) Instead, "the 'right' answer is the one that field testing has shown to be the consensus answer of the 'smart' kids." What is this, Family Feud, where you're rewarded for guessing not the right answer but the popular one? Or, worse, the most conformist?

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