New York State’s standardized math and English exams for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades are over, except for the scoring and the remaining four years of Pearson’s $32 million contract to provide tests. Here’s a sample question that should be on a state exam but never will be:
Read the following story. At the end, answer four questions.
It was a sunny Monday morning in the Enchanted Forest, and the animal children happily scurried, hopped and slithered to the clearing where Owl taught 4th grade. As usual, Bunny was first to arrive. “I’m so happy, Mr. Owl,” said Bunny. “Monday has music class, so it’s my favorite day.”
Owl looked at Bunny. “We’re not having music class, remember? Today is the annual Enchanted Forest state math test. Instead of singing songs and playing the recorder, you’re going to sit your little cotton tail at a desk for 90 minutes and answer some questions.”
Bunny wrinkled her nose. “Am I being punished?”
“You’re being evaluated!” hooted Owl. “So am I, for that matter. Let’s hope you do good work, so I can keep my job and you can get into a good middle school.” As Owl spoke, Otter, Beaver, Weasel, Snake, Chipmunk and (last as always) Mouse entered the clearing and sat down.
“All right, critters,” said Owl, “everyone spread out and find a cozy yet completely isolated spot. Except you, Snake. You slither over to Room 12. Since you have no arms and can’t fill in the test answers, your IEP says you will get help from Mrs. Monkey.”
As Snake left, Beaver spoke up. “But Mrs. Monkey is the gym teacher. And my little brother in 1st grade has gym this morning. How can Mrs. Monkey help Snake and teach gym at the same time?”
“She can’t,” answered Owl. “That’s why the 1st-graders will be watching a video of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ this morning. And the 2nd-graders will have extra recess instead of art, because the art teacher is monitoring bathrooms to make sure kids don’t huddle near the toilets and talk about the exam. Now, let’s get to work.”
Owl passed out the math tests. After 10 minutes, Chipmunk raised a paw. “Mr. Owl, question No. 3 has two correct answers.”
“Chipmunk, that can’t be right,” Owl hooted. “The Enchanted Forest spent $32 million to buy these tests from a reputable company. Grown-ups double-checked these things. Let me look.” Owl read the question and scanned the answers. Then his big eyes grew even bigger. “Uh, critters, Chipmunk seems to have a point. If you think you see two correct answers on No. 3, choose either one. Meanwhile, I’ll point this out to Principal Bear.” And Bear will no doubt crap in the woods, thought Owl.
After 30 minutes, Weasel set down his pencil. “I’m done,” he yelled. The others gasped, and Weasel grinned his weasely grin. “My parents hired a tutor. I’ve been prepping for this test for three months.”
Chipmunk looked confused. “But the whole point of this test is to see how well we’ve been learning in this school,” she said. “Besides, my parents can’t afford a tutor. That’s not fair!”
“Fair, schmair,” shot back Weasel. “My parents say I get only one shot at 4th grade, and they’re not going to let me blow it. Not like Raccoon. His parents kept him home today, to boycott the test. Raccoon’s parents say learning is an esoteric art that defies static measurement and that mandated testing is a flawed …”
Owl hushed Weasel. “Raccoon’s parents are making a brave political statement,” Owl said. “But we can talk about brave statements some other day — a day when I can actually do some teaching. Although, since I now teach only those things that will be covered on these tests, I honestly can’t see the topic of test boycotts coming up. Anyway, continue, critters.”
One by one, each animal finished the test. When all were done, Owl gathered up the tests and served the day’s snack. It was a pineapple. They ate it.
1. What is the moral of this story?
A. That thing Raccoon’s parents say: Learning is an esoteric art that defies blah, blah, blah.
B. You’ll do better on tests if your parents can afford a tutor.
C. Snakes don’t have arms.
D. Something about Rosa Parks.
2. Who is the hero of the story?
A. Weasel, because he seized every advantage.
B. Raccoon, because he took a moral stand.
C. Mr. Owl, because he is a teacher. Also, he could have eaten Mouse but didn’t.
D. Batman. Like, c’mon, Batman is the greatest hero ever! Duh!
3. Is the standardized test you’re now taking a good thing?
C. Without a doubt!
D. Yes sir! Indeed sir!
4. Is the Enchanted Forest really enchanted?
A. Yes, because the animals can talk and don’t eat each other.
B. No. The story doesn’t mention fairies. Gotta have fairies!
C. Depends on how much money the critters’ Parents Association raised this year.
D. Yes and no. In a truly “enchanted” forest, mandated tests would accurately and fairly measure student achievement and identify weaknesses in a school. But we all know such things are pure fairy tale.