Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cuomo, Tisch, And King Remain AWOL On Pineapplegate And Other Testing Controversies

During the battle over re-doing the 2010 teacher evaluation legislation earlier this year, you couldn't miss Governor Cuomo, Regents Chancellor Tisch or NYSED Commissioner John King all over the news.

They all talked about the crisis in New York State's public schools that could only be solved by "strengthening" the state's evaluation of teachers - primarily by adding standardized tests to every subject in every grade and using those scores to evaluate teachers.

Cuomo himself hailed the deal with the following words:

“We are writing into law a new national model for teacher evaluations that will put our students first and put New York State at the front of the class when it comes to school accountability,” he said. “I commend the legislative leaders for taking this extraordinary step to create permanent and real evaluations in our schools.”

Tisch and King also hailed the deal in a joint statement to the state:

"This agreement is a significant improvement over the evaluation law passed in 2010," Chancellor Tisch said. "But our work is by no means over. The Regents have adopted a major education reform plan, and teacher and principal evaluations are just a part of that reform. Today is a good day, but the best day will be when we’ve fully implemented the Regents reforms and we’ve made sure all our students get the education they need to succeed in college and careers."

"The goal is and always has been to help students – to give them every opportunity to succeed in college and careers," Commissioner King. "To make that happen, we need to improve teaching and learning. We owe it to our students to make sure every classroom is led by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Today, the Governor’s leadership and his commitment to our students have helped us take a strong step toward that goal."

And yet, in the first test period after this "significant improvement" in education here in New York State, we have critics, including parents and educators, denouncing the tests as badly designed, unfair, or prejudicial to certain populations.

Principal Elizabeth Phillips of PS 321 in Park Slope summed up the problems with the tests in a letter to Commissioner King, which the Post covered today:

(She) wrote that she was “genuinely shocked” by the poor quality of the exams — particularly given their high stakes.

She complained that the questions following the fifth-grade reading passages were “ridiculous” and seemed designed to trick students.

“There are so many more flawed questions than ever before,” she wrote. “The idea that teachers may lose their jobs and schools [at least in New York City] may be closed based on how children do on these problematic exams is incredibly upsetting and demoralizing to educators.”

The NY Post also notes that the tests were discriminatory toward deaf children:

State Education Department officials were blind to the feelings of deaf students on this week’s English exams — heartlessly asking them questions about sounds such as the clickety-clack of a woman’s high heels and the rustle of wind blowing on leaves, educators claimed.

One sixth-grade teacher of hearing-impaired kids said they were completely thrown off by a lengthy listening passage rife with references to environmental noises — such as a cupboard door creaking open or the roar of a jet engine.

The kids were then asked to write how a boy who hears those sounds as music in his head is like a typical sixth-grader.

“My kids were looking at us like we had 10 heads. They said they didn’t understand the story,” the teacher said, referring to herself and a sign-language interpreter.

“It was all based on music and sounds in the world they don’t know,” added the perturbed teacher. “They definitely were upset.”

The teacher’s sound criticism was among a host of complaints about the new exams administered to students in Grades 3 to 8 this week, part of a five-year, $32 million deal with the testing company Pearson.

And of course we have PineappleGate, which if you've been under a rock these past few days, you may not have heard about:

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.


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.

Other than a defensive statement posted on the NYSED website (which you can view here) that was quoted in all the papers, Commissioner King has been silent on the problems with his high stakes tests.

In addition, while he did pull the Pineapple and the Hare questions from the test, he insisted in his statement that passage and questions were sound (if so, why pull them?) and a committee of New York State teachers had signed off on all testing materials, so it was their fault anyway.

Governor Cuomo and Regents Chancellor Tisch have STILL not issued statements or made public comments about the testing controversies (and make no mistake, there is more controversy than just the Pineapple and the Hare story.)

During the teacher evaluation battle , you couldn't miss seeing these two public figures lambaste teachers and unions (Tisch is actually on record saying the public hates teachers, but once a "scientific, objective" teacher evaluation system based upon test scores is in place, the public will like them again), but now that the tests have been exposed as badly designed, unfair and prejudicial to some populations of students, you can't find them anywhere.

Even the NY Post, which cheerleads high stakes testing and teacher evaluations tied to test scores any time it can, noted that state officials are not responding to the controversy:

Four state Education Department press officers failed to respond to questions from The Post.

The same goes for Pearson, the designer of the tests and the owner of a brand new $32 million state testing contract.

It is disconcerting to students, parents, teachers and administrators to see these people who are in charge of "accountability" refuse any accountability for these tests.

This is particularly problematic because these tests are going to be used to make high stakes decisions on students, teachers, and schools.

In fact, King, Tisch and Cuomo were just bragging about that fact back in February when they steamrolled the changes to the statewide evaluation system.

Now all we here from the governor and the Regents chancellor is silence and from the NYSED commissioner defensiveness.

But they cannot ignore these testing controversies forever.

As the Times noted, those of us who have been pointing out the problems with using high stakes standardized tests for high stakes decisions on students, teachers and schools now have the proof that this system is flawed.

Let's here a response from the accountability advocates who so love to talk when the onus of accountability is on teachers and schools.


  1. “We are writing into law a new national model for teacher evaluations that will put our students first and put New York State at the front of the class when it comes to school accountability,” he said. “I commend the legislative leaders for taking this extraordinary step to create permanent and real evaluations in our schools." - Andrew Cuomo

    Well, he definitely put New York State in the front and center throughout the nation on the topic of education reform. However, I think Andrew Cuomo needs to be careful what he he wished for. I am sure this is not what he had in mind when he made that quote.

  2. Great article. (BTW, please fix the two misspellings of "hear" (appears as "here") in the final paragraph and the one three from the end.)