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John Oliver’s take on standardized tests, Pearson, talking pineapples

Craig Clough | May 5, 2015

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The HBO show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” took on the issue of standardized tests on Sunday, criticizing the pressure it creates for students, teachers and administrators.

Oliver made no secret of where he stood, pointing out that some test booklets include instructions on what a teacher should do if an anxious student vomits on the booklet.

“And something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of kids will vomit. Tests are supposed to be assessments of skills, not a rap battle on 8 Mile Road,” Oliver said.

The segment covers many facets of the issue, including tying the results to teacher evaluations, the growing number of students boycotting the tests, the history of No Child Left Behind and the sometimes ridiculous and surreal scenes the testing culture creates, like pep rallies with a dancing monkey meant to pump kids up for the test.

Oliver also focused on the profits reaped by large companies like Pearson that create the tests, and a confusing, bizarre test question about a talking pineapple.

“A talking pineapple? At the risk of sounding like a Dreamworks executive talking to a CGI animator, ‘Tell me more about this talking pineapple,'” Oliver said.

The pineapple test question was among 30 produced by Pearson that have now been declared invalid in New York. One student told a local news station the question “was stupid and absurd.”

Oliver said he and his staff looked up the test question and couldn’t work out the answer either.

“That pineapple item doesn’t remotely work as a test question. It barely works as a Doors lyric,” Oliver said.

Anyone who follows LA Unified closely is familiar with the concept of Pearson — one of the largest producers of educational materials — falling short of expectations. The district recently announced its intention to seek a full refund on millions of dollars of iPads that were purchased pre-loaded with Pearson software it found to be unusable.

No matter where you stand on the issue, the video (above) is well worth a look.

(Warning: it does include some crass humor and bleeped swear words.)

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