After Uproar, New York Releases Standardized Test Questions

By Liana Loewus — August 07, 2014 2 min read
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Following accusations that questions on the New York standardized tests given this spring were developmentally inappropriate and included product placement, the state education department has made about half of the questions publicly available online.

The state education department consistently released test questions until 2010, when it stopped out of concern doing so allowed teachers to “teach to the test.” After that it began releasing just 25 percent of test questions, and saving some that were not released for reuse.

In April, a principal from Brooklyn wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times saying the tests her students had just taken “were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the common-core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous.”

She noted that she could not speak more specifically about the test questions because of a “gag order” written into the Pearson testing contract. The American Federation of Teachers protested the gag order, which the education department defended as necessary to keep some questions reusable.

On Aug. 6, the education department announced it was doubling the number of test questions it would release, to 50 percent.

In a letter that went out with the release of the test questions, New York education commissioner John King wrote, “Now, in addition to understanding the percentage of students who answered questions correctly and which standards the questions measured, you are able to analyze test questions, including the percentage of students that selected each plausible but incorrect response for released items. The released items will also provide increased insight into how the questions measure the intended standard.”

However, Bianca Tanis, a special education teacher in Rockland County, N.Y., told the Associated Press that seeing the questions made her “angry all over again.”

She pointed to the following question from the 4th grade English/language arts test, which students saw after reading a story called “Pecos Bill Captures the Pacing White Mustang":

Why is Pecos Bill’s conversation with the cowboys important to the story?
A It predicts the action in paragraph 4.
B It predicts the action in paragraph 5.
C It explains the choice in paragraph 10.
D It explains the choice in paragraph 11.

Tannis told the AP that the question “requires too much flipping back and forth for the average 9-year-old” and “is not developmentally appropriate.”

Another question from the test mentions Mug Root Beer, with a note that it’s a registered trademark.

All of the questions, along with annotations and analyses, are available here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.