Sunday, April 22, 2012

The talking pineapple: "I'm suing for wrongful dismissal!"

Officials pull puzzling pinapple question from state tests
Bizarre passage stumped educators and students

By Rachel Monahan and Ben Chapman
Friday, April 20, 2012
New York State Education Commissioner John King pulled the question from exams Friday. (Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News)

They canned the pineapple.

Education officials scratched a bizarre item about a race between a pineapple and a hare from the state’s high-stakes exams a day after the Daily News focused attention on the inscrutable puzzler.

State Education Commissioner John King said that the infamous question won’t be counted in New York's eighth-grade reading tests because of its “ambiguous nature” in a statement released Friday.

“It will not be counted against students in their scores,” said King.

The befuddling test item caused students and educators to scratch their heads in confusion - and gave ammunition to critics who say the state tests are flawed.

The story was a take-off on Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, this time written about a talking pineapple who challenges a rabbit to a race.

Other animals ponder whether the legless pineapple can win - and wonder if the fruit is trying to fool them by merely acting immobile.

When the pineapple doesn’t budge and the fleet-footed hare wins the race, the animals all join together to eat the pineapple.

Students who took the test were stumped by questions about why the animals ate the fruit and which animal was wisest.

The correct answers -- which the state agreed to released Friday -- were that the animals ate the fruit because they were annoyed, and the owl was the wisest animal.

City schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who is ironically allergic to pineapples, couldn’t stomach the question very well either.
A pineapple which Chancellor Dennis Walcott is ironically allergic to, were the main characters in a controversial state exam question. (Robin Lynne Gibson/Getty Images)

“I have my theories on answers, but I can’t comment on the test itself,” said Walcott, who
insisted that the bunk questions don’t “say anything about the test as a whole.”

Last year the state handed a $32 million contract to testing company Pearson to overhaul the exams after they had become too easy to pass.

The new exams are used in decisions to promote students and have higher stakes for principals and teachers, whose evaluations will be based in part on students’ test scores.

Critics have said that the pineapple question - which is the subject of a sarcastic Facebook page with nearly 11,500 “likes” - is proof the new exams are flawed.

The state Education Department finally agree to release the passage yesterday, and there were slight variations from the version printed in the Daily News. But critics still insist its unfathomable.

Children's book author Daniel Pinkwater, who wrote the story on which the passage is based, said that he's happy it sparked debate about high stakes testing.

"There wasn't any outrage or confusion until it hit New York, where people are smarter," he said, adding, "It's a nonsense story."

bchapman@nydailynews.com

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