Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

State exam asks N.J. 3rd graders to write essay on secret they had kept

Ohanian Comment: NOTE: Susan Engel is at Williams College, not Williams University. We have encountered her before--and disagreed before. It seems incredible that she does not see anything wrong with this test question. I think she couldn't be more wrong about third graders.

Lots of concerned readers wrote something like this at the newspaper site: "Now we will be turned down for jobs, college admissions, mortgages, loans, air travel, etc. because of what you wrote when you were in Third Grade and you will not even know it." they all blamed it on Democrat commies. I blame it on letting people who know nothing about children write these tests.

This teacher makes an excellent point.

Reader Comment: All information revealed during the use of the test booklet, including wording of test items and response options, name and content of passages and texts, order of materials, and any other knowledge revealed to me during this process is confidential.

Any and all materials used in this process, and any information conveyed during this process, must be held in confidence and can not be discussed with anyone.

This was copied from the NJ DOE manual. If a parent had not complained about this question, Teachers could not have even legally discussed the absurdity!

by Jessica Calefati

Some third graders were asked to write an essay revealing a secret on a state exam.

Is it okay to ask a child to reveal a secret?

Richard Goldberg doesn̢۪t think so.

Goldberg, the father of 8-year old twin boys, was dismayed to learn his third-grade sons were asked to write an essay about a secret they had and why it was hard to keep.

The unusual question, which Goldberg called "entirely inappropriate" was on the standardized tests given to public school students in the third through eighth grade every spring.

He said he first learned about the essay when he questioned his sons about the difficulty of the annual test, which they had been preparing for at their Marlboro elementary school.

"They both looked at me and said 'the secrets question was really hard,'" Goldberg said. "I told them 'Wow, that's a difficult question,' but in my head I was thinking, 'How did this outrageous question get on the test in the first place.'"

Roughly 4,000 students in 15 districts across the state answered the question, which Department of Education spokesman Justin Barra said was being "field-tested" during this year's administration of the New Jersey Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (NJ ASK).

The question will not, however, appear on any future versions of the test, Barra said.

"We've looked at this question in light of concerns raised by parents, and it is clear that this is not an appropriate question for a state test," Barra said.

Although students' answers to field questions do not count toward their scores on the test, Barra would not reveal the school districts where the question was asked or the exact wording of the question.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of Fair Test, an organization that advocates for transparenmost standardized tests more than a decade ago, called the 'secrets' question "idiotic."

"What if the deep dark secret is molestation, or that your parents are about to get divorced? What kind of mind set is a child left with for the rest of the exam?" Schaeffer said. "This kind of serious error can make standardized tests even less useful than they normally are."

Questions that dealt with emotional issues generally were eliminated from standarized tests more than a decade ago, he said.

The question did not seem troubling to Susan Engel, a lecturer in psychology and director of the teaching program at Williams University. Asking about secrets is a good way to get children to write, she said, and it's unlikely such young children would bare their souls.

"I think by and large, kids are not going to tell a real secret," she said.

Goldberg said he has been in contact with other parents in the neighborhood through Facebook and many are also dismayed. He said his sons were challenged by the question because they wanted to answer honestly, but also did not want to reveal something that would get them in trouble.

"My one boy wrote about a broken ceiling fan that Dad knew about, buy maybe Mom did not," Goldberg said. "Other parents told me their kids just made stuff up."

Field questions like this one must go through a "several-step process" of vetting and review by a testing expert, a content specialist and a panel of teachers before the question appears on an exam, Barra said.

As standardized tests are becoming a bigger part of education -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, among others, wants the results to be a factor in teachers̢۪ pay -- the exams themselves are being increasingly scrutinized..

Last month, New York education officials said they would not score six multiple-choice questions about a passage from an eighth-grade reading exam about a hare and a talking pineapple. Parents and teachers complained that the passage, and the questions about it, did not make sense.

And later, they acknowledged finding errors on math tests given to fourth- and eighth-graders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Star Ledger


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.