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Fresh off "pineapple" episode, state identifies math exam errors

Two of the state math exams that students are set to start taking on Wednesday have errors, the State Education Department advised principals today.

On the fourth-grade exam, one question has two correct answers, the department warned. The eighth-grade test contains one question with no correct answer at all.

The admission comes as educators and parents are on high alert about the tests after the embarrassing revelation that the state’s eighth-grade reading exam included a revised and seemingly nonsensical literary passage whose moral was “pineapples don’t wear sleeves.” Together, the episodes have raised concerns about Pearson, the company that is in the first year of a five-year, $32 million contract to produce tests for New York State.

A spokesman for the department said the mistakes amounted only to typographical errors. But critics of the state’s testing program say the state is holding Pearson to a lower standard than it holds students.

“If our children make errors on these high-stakes exams, this will have negative consequences for them, as well as for their teachers and schools,” said Leonie Haimson, the parent activist who brought attention to the “Pineapple” story, in a statement. “So why should Pearson, which had nearly $2 billion in profits last year, be left off the hook for their sloppy mistakes?”

The eighth-grade question wouldn’t have made a difference in students’ scores because the state was piloting it to see whether it would make a good item. But the question counts on the fourth-grade test, whose scores are used in middle school admissions decisions. The state told schools that proctors could let students know that there are two possible answers — but that the information should be shared only with students who ask.

Pearson has committed to building tougher exams for the state in future years. Starting next year, exam questions will incorporate the Common Core, new curriculum standards that emphasize critical thinking over rote memorization.

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