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N.J. Axes Test Question Requiring 3rd Graders to Reveal a Personal Secret

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"What if the deep dark secret is molestation, or that your parents are about to get divorced?"

TRENTON, N.J. (The Blaze/AP) -- State education officials will no longer use a standardized test question that asked third-graders to reveal a secret and write about why it was difficult to keep.

The question appeared on the writing portion of some versions of the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge given to third-graders this past week. And it drew criticism from some parents, who thought it was inappropriate.

The blog Hot Air, for example, asked what school officials would do if "children do reveal real secrets—and closely guarded ones at that." Secrets that might be deemed unacceptable by the school.

And then there's the issue that the question could skew test results. Bob Schaeffer, public education director of Fair Test, which advocates for transparent standardized tests, explains.

"What if the deep dark secret is molestation, or that your parents are about to get divorced? What kind of mind set is a child left with for the rest of the exam?" he told NJ.com. "This kind of serious error can make standardized tests even less useful than they normally are."

The state Department of Education said the question was reviewed and approved by it and a panel of teachers. It said Friday the question was only being tried out and would not count in the students' scores.

But after further review, Department of Education spokesman Justin Barra said, the question won't be included in future tests.

"We've looked at this question in light of concerns raised by parents, and it is clear that this is not an appropriate question for a state test," Barra said, adding that about 4,000 students in 15 districts had the question.

Marlboro dentist Richard Goldberg was among the parents who had raised concerns about the question.

Goldberg said he was appalled when he asked his twin 9-year-old sons about the standardized tests they were taking and they told him about the question. He said he felt it ventured into topics that would best be kept quiet and it could raise some serious complications, so he wasn't surprised to hear the state decided to eliminate it from future tests.

"I got a lot of feedback from parents who also were outraged" about the matter, Goldberg told Neptune's the Asbury Park Press newspaper. "All of a sudden now you have thousands and thousands of children possibly revealing things that now these people have to report, when the purpose of the exam was to see what the children's critical reading skills were."

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