Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pearson's Indigestible Potato Word Salad

Pearson's Weekly Test 8 for second graders:


Potatoes are one of the foods we eat. People eat potatoes for lunch and dinner. They also eat them for breakfast. They are not fruits or vegetables. They are part of the plant's roots.

It is very easy to grow potatoes in a garden. A potato grows from its "eyes." These are dark marks on the potato. Have you ever left one in your kitchen for too long? It will start to grow. You will see little green bumps. These bumps will grow into a new potato plant. But the plant will not do well in the kitchen. A potato needs to grow in the ground.

In the past, some people only have had potatoes to eat. One of these places was Ireland in the early 1900s. One year the potato crop did not do well. People had nothing to eat. Many of them came to America at that time. They hoped to find a better life.

The Irish found many ways to cook potatoes. That way no one got tired of eating them. Today, some of our favorite snacks come from potatoes. Who does not love potato chips and French fries?

There are a number of specific flaming issues here:

  • Mis-dating the Irish potato famine by nearly a century and misrepresenting its length.
  • Blandly asserting that potatoes are not fruits or vegetables with no explanation. What are they then and why?
  • Confusing green spots and eyes.
  • Weird, obviously false non sequiturs like "no one got tired of eating (potatoes)" for every meal.
  • The lack of distinction between the potato tuber and the entire plant.
  • This should be written specifically as if it was explaining a potato to a student who had never actually seen a potato, just potato products.
  • Complete lack of a "main idea" or coherent focus.

At this point, we have to seriously ask whether or not this essay was written by a human or a computer program. It could be explained by a sequence of indifferent editors chopping apart some other text(s), but it is almost impossible to imagine this as even a caffeine (or meth) fueled stream of consciousness from a single author.

You can't really blame the Common Core for this mess, although you can question the premise of the whole Common Core process -- that having the same players that wrote our supposedly bad old curricula our entire ELA curricula all at once in a big hurry to meet an equally rushed, vague yet over-specific, set of new standards would have a positive result.

The big, BIG problem here is that teachers should know that Pearson is also likely writing the tests which will be used to assess their students, their own performance, as well as the performance of their school, their supervisors, their district, the state, and perhaps the program which certified them to teach. While "multiple measures" will come into play, those additional measures will be either derived from the test scores (e.g., growth measures) or be considered valid insofar as they correlate strongly to the test scores.

Not only can the teacher not easily ignore these exercises, there is tangible risk in teaching students to question or critique them too closely, as this would be likely to lead to students answering questions "incorrectly" on standardized tests.

Pearson is committing educational malpractice right out in the open, and we need to get a little more bold about shining light on it. This is not a doctrinal or philosophical dispute, it is just negligence. This is worse than just giving kids Fun with Dick and Jane.

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