A question on a test used in some Pennsylvania schools has several dairy advocates concerned that students might confuse the answer with fact.
The question was in a fourth-grade online language arts test designed by IXL Learning, an educational technology company based in California.
Students were given various opinions and asked to identify the statements that supported them.
One of those opinions was “People should not drink whole milk.” Students had two answers to choose from: “Whole milk contains a lot of nutrients that your body needs” and “Whole milk contains a lot of fat.”
The latter choice was the correct answer, and some dairy advocates feel that’s just plain wrong.
As board chairman for whole-milk advocacy group 97 Milk, G.N. Hursh said even if the right answer to the question isn’t an accurate statement, students will still accept it as fact because it was on a test.
To offer an opinion on a test that people should not drink whole milk and follow it up with an answer in favor of that position is “very disturbing,” Hursh said.
“It is instances such as this that is the reason why 97 Milk was started,” he said. “We saw the misconceptions out there about whole milk.”
Hursh also objected to schools being able to present that opinion on a test while the facts about the nutritional benefits of whole milk aren’t allowed.
“It’s an opinion on a test that students are absorbing as fact,” he said.
Jayne Sebright, executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence, said dairy foods are important for the nutritional needs of students, and misleading statements such as the opinion on the test perpetuate the problem.
“Children are very subjective to what they hear, and they probably assume this is true since they read it on a test,” she said. “Just having a statement that could persuade students negatively is a disservice to our efforts to fight for childhood nutrition, including nutrient-dense foods such as whole milk and dairy products.”
Many farmers want whole milk to be allowed in schools, fearing the dairy industry will lose a generation of customers because students won’t like the taste of the mandated skim and 1%.
Some studies have correlated positive health outcomes with consumption of higher-fat milk. But the reasons for this correlation remain unclear, and many dietitians remain skeptical.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage people to consume low-fat dairy.
IXL Learning did not respond to a request for comment on the test question. According to the company website, its educational tools are used by 850,000 teachers in the U.S. and 1 out of every 5 students.
In Pennsylvania, 640 schools used IXL Math and 424 used IXL language arts curricula between 2016 and 2018, according to the website.
Lancaster Farming contacted six school districts in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania’s leading dairy producer, to see if they were using the IXL curriculum.
Eastern Lancaster County, Lampeter-Strasburg and Warwick school districts said they were not using the platform. The other districts did not respond by deadline.
Philip Gruber contributed reporting.