Last year, a nonsensical standardized test question about a talking pineapple was in the news, having a correct answer that was supposed to be “pineapples don’t have sleeves.” That story has been in my mind lately since my daughter recently grappled with one of the reading assignments she brought home. This particular assignment was a reading skills practice test that included an excerpt from the classic children’s tale Pinocchio, undoubtedly selected for its alignment with Common Core reading standards for 6th graders.
While the worksheet cited Project Gutenberg as its source, it didn’t specify exactly which Pinocchio e-book was used. Here’s an excerpt from the worksheet:
“A gentleman–you?” said the fox, and he began to laugh rudely and scornfully. The cat also began to laugh, but to conceal it she combed her whiskers with her forepaws.
“There is little to laugh at,” cried Pinocchio angrily. “I am really sorry to make your mouths water, but if you know anything about it, you can see that here are five gold pieces.”
And he pulled out the money.
At the sympathetic ring of the money, the fox with an involuntary movement stretched out the paw that had seemed injured, and the cat opened wide two eyes that looked like two green lanterns. It is true that she shut them again, and so quickly that Pinocchio saw nothing.
Now here is Question 1 from the worksheet:
1. Read this sentence from the passage and answer the question that follows.
At the sympathetic ring of the money, the fox with an involuntary movement stretched out the paw that had seemed injured, and the cat opened wide two eyes that looked like two green lanterns.
What does this sentence show about the fox and the cat?
- The are very happy for Pinocchio that he has money
- They might not be injured and blind, as they pretend to be
- They have lost their money, and Pinocchio has found it
- They are really boys, not a fox and a cat
Now here is the same excerpt from the Gutenberg e-book:
“A gentleman—you!” said the Fox, and he began to laugh rudely and scornfully. The Cat also began to laugh, but to conceal it she combed her whiskers with her forepaws.
“There is little to laugh at,” cried Pinocchio angrily. “I am really sorry to make your mouth water, but if you know anything about it, you can see that these are five gold pieces.”
And he pulled out the money that Fire-Eater had given him.
At the jingling of the money the Fox, with an involuntary movement, stretched out the paw that seemed crippled, and the Cat opened wide two eyes that looked like two green lanterns. It is true that she shut them again, and so quickly that Pinocchio observed nothing.
And here is a second version from Gutenberg.org:
“You, a rich man?” said the Fox, and he began to laugh out loud. The Cat was laughing also, but tried to hide it by stroking his long whiskers.
“There is nothing to laugh at,” cried Pinocchio angrily. “I am very sorry to make your mouth water, but these, as you know, are five new gold pieces.”
And he pulled out the gold pieces which Fire Eater had given him.
At the cheerful tinkle of the gold, the Fox unconsciously held out his paw that was supposed to be lame, and the Cat opened wide his two eyes till they looked like live coals, but he closed them again so quickly that Pinocchio did not notice.
So let me see if I have this straight. The author of this worksheet (not my child’s teacher but curriculum “experts” at a well known educational publisher which out of charity I will not name here) decided that “At the sympathetic ring of the money” was an improvement over the original phrase of either “At the jingling of the money” or “At the cheerful tinkle of the gold“?
I seem to remember that “The Cat in the Hat” was originally composed by Theodor Geisel aka Dr Seuss as an effort to include a list of some 50 or so spelling words, so perhaps “sympathetic ring” is merely intended to satisfy some vocabulary requirement. But it is an awful substitute adjective; it makes no more sense than the notorious talking pineapple.
And another thing, in the original text the fox stretches out his supposedly injured paw and the cat opens & closes his eyes, but the sentence that was provided offered only the first and not the second clue to the correct answer. My daughter & I had a talk about that, and I suggested next time she go back to re-read around the sentence in question to see if she can get more information. But dad, she said, it says to read the sentence provided. Indeed it does. And kids her age are going to do exactly that, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a shame my 6th grader needs to be coached on how to parse and read into poorly written test questions. I realize that this was only a practice test, but I have to wonder what the real one will look like, given the precedent that has been set.
This stuff is stressful to kids, and to parents as well if they are paying attention. I really think my kids’ teachers could come up with better reading activities and assessments if the powers that be would let them. But that’s not the world we currently live in.