New Jersey Has a Secret Problem

Don't ask, don't tell?

Thank you to the New Jersey Department of Education. They have put to rest once and for all the popular classroom pronouncement that “there is no such thing as a stupid question.” They came up with the mother of all stupid questions and asked 4,000 third-graders to answer it on a standardized test.

The question asked the nine- and 10-year-olds to tell a secret and write about why it was so hard to keep. It appeared on some versions of the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge test.

The ethical and legal ramifications of such a question are mind-boggling. Equally baffling is how in the world such a question would make it on to a test in the first place. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants the results of such tests to be a factor in teacher’s pay, so each question is getting more scrutiny than ever before. The NJ Department of Education said the question was reviewed and approved by the department and a panel of teachers.

What secrets were they hoping to learn? For why else would you ask such a question? It gives off the inadvertent stench of a government attempting to get children to turn in their parents. What responsibility does the department have if the test-taker reveals a crime? That is a question NJ DOE was asked and could not answer.

As to how the secret question got on the test in the first place, Justin Barra, a DOE spokesperson assured the public and concerned parents not to worry because the answers to the question would not be counted in the final score. That was a reaffirmation that there are indeed stupid answers.

Who cares if it is counted or not? The harm is done in the question being asked and in the content of the answers, not the skill in which it is answered.

Later, after realizing the complete inanity of his first answer, Barra told the media that the question would not be asked on future tests. Again, not the point. What about the 4,000 revealed secrets headed to Trenton to be read and evaluated? To avoid the possibility of class action and individual lawsuits, false prosecution, arrests for not reporting a crime and a host of other legal problems, the Department of Education must destroy all 4,000 tests with the secret question.

It is the only way out of this mess. Either that or DOE employees may have to answer the same question they asked of New Jersey’s third-graders, only they will be forced to answer after being sworn in.