Moral of the Story: Pineapples Don’t Have Sleeves

I intended to start this blog post inspired by this article about “security breaches” of the California Standards Test (CST) standardized test. My thoughts about this article were in two directions: how do you ensure integrity of high-stakes tests in our current era of pervasive cell-phone/camera/internet access; and are kids even taking these tests seriously, and what does that say about their value and meaningfulness?

I started to ponder these topics, then got totally derailed when I came across a reference to “Pineapples Don’t Have Sleeves” in the article’s comments. I was then sucked into a YouTube vortex of videos on the topic of pineapples not having sleeves. In case you don’t have an hour or more to spend on the topic, I’ll provide some highlights.  (And if you’re in New York, this may all be old news; apologies.)

First, I came across this video. It’s fairly longwinded, but introduced me to the frustration of an 8th grader taking the 2012 New York State ELA standardized test. The stories are horrible and stupid and getting worse every year, he says. This year’s pineapple and hare fable is particularly lame. A pineapple challenges a hare to a race, and the other forest animals think the pineapple must have a trick up its sleeve, but indeed it loses because it can’t move, and so the animals eat it. The owl states the moral: Pineapples don’t have sleeves.

Okay, I have to agree, that’s pretty ridiculous.

But what I found wonderful, actually, is that this preposterous story inspired lots of discussion on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and who knows where else. Much of it is pure venting about the offensiveness of standardized testing, but weaved in is also some discussion about the questions asked—did the animals eat the pineapple because they were annoyed, or hungry? Can we determine which was the wisest animal in the forest? What does it mean to “make sense” of a story that’s nonsense? If students are discussing what they’ve read, even it’s because they’re offended by the silliness of it, that’s not all bad. Apparently New York has decided to not count the questions in their scoring because at least two may not have unambiguous answers. And, there has been similar outrage in other states in past years about this same story and its accompanying questions; nonetheless, the test makers have continued using it. By the way, the author of the story, who sold the rights for it to be used on the test, considers himself explicitly to be a writer of nonsense, and notes that it was rewritten for the test to be even more random.

I’m glad that students are discussing sense-making, and I love, too, that students have been inspired to make some great videos expressing their feelings about this test. Here’s a mosaic of students expressing their thoughts on the ridiculousness of the story. And this video is particularly illuminating. This student reads us the story and the questions, which she found on the internet. Her personality shines through loud and clear, and she does a nice video. It’s neat that students have the tools and skills to be doing this. But the fact that photos of the whole story and question are on the internet demonstrates one of the original points. If this information is on the internet after the fact, there’s no reason they can’t be there and accessed by other test takers during the test.

But in case you’re concerned that the kids are all up in arms and none of them are taking standardized tests seriously, here’s a counterpoint. These kids appear seriously motivated to be “proficient” or “advanced” on the DC Comprehensive Assessment System test. For me, this vid’s the winner of the bunch. Gotta love the creativity and effort!

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About Josephine Noah

I taught mathematics for 5 years in Berkeley and Oakland, California, before coming to Key Curriculum Press. Teaching with powerful curricula like the Interactive Mathematics Program and Paul Foerster's Calculus book had a profound impact on me and my students' experiences in the classroom, and led me to want to be a part of delivering powerful learning materials. I've been doing just that with Key Curriculum Press since 2002, first working as a development editor, and now as Product Management Director.
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2 Responses to Moral of the Story: Pineapples Don’t Have Sleeves

  1. avatar pineapple says:

    really?
    they dont have sleeves

  2. While I too admired the last video for its creativity and effort, I was disturbed by its underlying message. When I saw the name of the school (FRIENDSHIP TECHNOLOGY PREPARATORY ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL) I immediately thought, “This has to be parody, right?” As soon as I realized it was sincere, I was split between two trains of thought: one, here’s a fabulous example of a technology-rich, student-driven project with evidence of collaboration among students with a variety of talents and strengths. All good things, in my humble opinion.

    And two: all of this creativity and collaboration went into a motivational video about passing standardized tests. The culture at this school places a premium on getting kids excited to fill in those bubbles! Yeah, we’re doing the bubble dance!! Bubble bubble bubble. As if answering multiple-choice questions, or writing formulaic “extended response,” questions is not only a legitimate measure of education (a stretch in itself), but education’s very purpose. The “rah rah” atmosphere disguising platitudinous brainwashing, the acceptance of only the most watered-down and mainstream versions of students’ home cultures, the young and self-consciously white teachers: all symptomatic of the corporate charter school movement’s reductive and segregated approach to education. Booker T. Washington for the 21st century: place students of color into highly-regimented programs that will weed out the individuals who cannot conform or comply to the dominant culture. “Educate” the remaining students by emphasizing rote tasks and a reductive, rather than critical, approach to text. Having graded these tests, I can tell you that the students who do best are the ones who a) follow all directions exactly and answer questions the way the test-makers mean them to be asked and b) regurgitate the facts straight from the passages without adding any sort of interpretation, detail, prior knowledge, or thought.

    Could you imagine the uproar if students at an upscale private school made a video containing the same message?

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