Share this article

print logo

'Secret' question on test draws fire

Some New Jersey parents are steamed about a question on a statewide standardized test this week that asked some third-graders to write about a secret and why it was hard to keep.

Richard Goldberg, a Marlboro dentist, was appalled when he asked his twin 9-year-old sons about the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge and they told him about the question, which state officials say was given to about 4,000 students as a tryout.

"All of the sudden, you have in a sense Big Brother checking out the secrets of families," he said.

So much for essays about how it was hard not to tell Mom about her surprise birthday party.

Goldberg felt the question ventured into topics that would best be kept quiet, and that it could raise some serious complications: What would test-graders do if the secret revealed has to do with a crime? And why would that question be asked anyway? New Jersey's state Education Department is reviewing what happened.

Susan Engel, a lecturer in psychology and director of the teaching program at Williams University, said the question doesn't sound troubling to her. Asking about secrets is a good way to get children to write, she said. And, she said, children at that age are unlikely to say something that would offend their families, or even bare their own souls. "I think by and large, kids are not going to tell a real secret," she said.

In a world where standardized tests are becoming a bigger part of education -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, among others, wants the results to be a factor in teachers' pay -- the exams themselves are getting more scrutiny.

Justin Barra, spokesman for New Jersey's state Education Department, said the state is looking into who wrote the "secret" question.

As for Goldberg's boys, he said one wrote about breaking a ceiling fan and not telling his dad. The other wrote about the time Goldberg took the boys out of school for a day of skiing -- and worried that he might get in trouble for admitting to playing hooky.