Ken Jennings couldn’t.
The man who made history in 2004 by winning 74 consecutive rounds of Jeopardy wasn’t able to figure out the short story presented to eighth graders across New York during a reading exam this past April. The story, which has gone down in infamy (it even has its own Facebook page), involves a talking pineapple that challenges a hare to a race and is subsequently eaten by all the animals in the forest. The moral of the story? Pineapples don’t have sleeves. If you’re confused, you’re not alone.
The New York Daily News presented Jennings with the question. "Is this a joke?” he asked, “The story makes no sense whatsoever. The narrative has no internal logic, the ‘moral' is unclear, and the plot details seems so oddly chosen that the story seems to have been written during a peyote trip ... A ninja and toothpaste? What does that even mean?"
The story caused an uproar among students, parents and teachers as they struggled to figure out exactly what it meant. This was a high-stakes exam, and one parent, Leonie Haimson, told the Daily News that she reacted with horror "that a question that’s so obviously confusing should be used on a test that is going to be used to determine our kid’s future and the future of our children’s schools.” Students were concerned about how the confusing questions would affect their scores, and by extension, their possible placement in high school.
The test was written by Pearson Publishing, which entered into a $32 million contract with New York State to create new exams that weren’t as “predictable” or “easy to pass” as existing exams. As teachers and principals are now evaluated based at least partially on students’ test scores, these new tests have severe implications for everyone involved. According to the NYC Public School Parents Blog, Pearson has recycled this exact story for at least seven years, baffling test-takers in Florida, Illinois, Delaware, New Mexico, Arkansas and Alabama.
But the pineapple won’t stop talking. Though New York Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said the questions would not be scored following the outrage, parents and students are still questioning the standards of state testing. Though testing ended in April, third through eighth graders were subject to two more weeks of “field-testing” in June: a way for Pearson to test potential questions on students. The tests don’t count, but more than 1 million students in 1,000 schools are still subjected to the rigor of the whole process.
Students and parents have begun petitioning Pearson and the state to call for an end to field-testing. Beginning on June 7, students stood outside Pearson headquarters in Midtown Manhattan to protest, with many of them flaunting pineapple-themed T-shirts and signs.
"She's already taken nine hours of standardized tests over a two-week period," one parent told NY1 about his daughter. One third grader told the station, “They're just trying to use our brains like we're lab rats."
Many opponents of high-stakes tests believe this may be the tipping point for building a movement against standardized testing. As the boycott continues to gain momentum, Pearson only claims it is working to “address these issues and make sure that none of these problems re-occur." The state is behind Pearson and says that testing isn’t going away.
What do you think about high-stakes testing? Is it integral to education, or is it failing to address important issues? Why don’t you take a look at the infamous pineapple story and see if you can pass the test?