“Outrageous” Standardized Test Question

May 29th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

A state test for third-graders asks them to reveal a secret.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Are standardized test makers running out of material?

About a month ago, parents in New York voiced their indignation about a bizarre question on their eighth grader’s standardized test that asked about a talking pineapple that challenges a hare to a race. Now, parents in New Jersey are furious over a question on their third graders’ standardized tests that they say could actually emotionally scar their kids.

The question of concern, according to the Huffington Post, asks the 8- and 9-year-olds to reveal a secret and write about why it was difficult to keep. About 4,000 third graders in 15 districts got the question on their tests. 

The Post article notes that the question was being tested to see if it should be included on a future version of the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge. Still, though it did not count toward students’ scores, it had been reviewed and approved by the Department of Education and a panel of teachers. After parents complained that the question was inappropriate for children, New Jersey’s Department of Education promised it would not be used in the future.   

But not everyone thinks the question was irresponsible or out of place for younger students. Susan Engel, director of the teaching program at Williams University, told NJ.com that asking kids about secrets might inspire them to write – and “kids are not going to tell a real secret.”

Still, Bob Schaeffer, public education director of Fair Test told the online publication that it’s an “idiotic” question to ask, as it may force kids to delve into a “deep dark secret,” such as the trauma of their parents’ divorce or child molestation. “What kind of mindset is a child left with for the rest of the exam?” he says. “This kind of serious error can make standardized tests even less useful than they normally are.” He said that questions that dealt with emotional issues were eliminated from standardized tests more than a decade ago. Further, an Associated Press story noted the importance of optimal performance on these tests: Every year, their results glean more power – this year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants the results to help determine teachers’ salaries.

What’s your opinion on these questions? Can you see how kids’ responses may be useful to test makers? Or was it irresponsible to push nonsensical or potentially harmful questions through in the first place?