It's time for my first rant of the new year on Amairikuhn edgykayshun, and it's a doozie.
When Ms. K.B. sent me this article, I just had to laugh, and I knew I just had to pass it along to all the teachers that are part of the regular readership here, who are fed up with the constant centralization and federalization of Amairikuhn edgykayshun, and the constant tilt of the insanity meter into the red kooky zone of the dial. Apparently things are so bad in Amairikuhn edgykayshun, standardized testing, and the whole Rotten to the (Common) Core experience that even the corporate controlled media, in this case, the Washington Post, are sitting up and taking notice, and that's, well, bad, or rather, just how bad things really are. Don't believe me? Read for yourself, and remember, this is the Washington Post:
Sara Holbrook, the poet in question, notes that the State of Texas chose one of what she herself calls one of her "most neurotic" poems, and goes on to observe what doubtless became a standard response of the students taking the test:
Let me begin by confessing that “A Real Case” is my most neurotic poem. I have a pile of them to be sure, but this one is the sour cherry on top. The written evidence of my anxieties, those evil gremlins that ride around on tricycles in my mind shooting my self-confidence with water pistols. How in the name of all that’s moldy did this poem wind up on a proficiency test?
Dose of reality: test makers are for-profit organizations. My poems are a whole lot cheaper than Mary Oliver’s or Jane Kenyon’s, so there’s that. But how would your vulnerable, nervous, number two pencil-gripping seventh grade self have felt opening your test packet to analyze poetic lines such as this:
I’m just down with a sniffly case/of sudden-self-loathing-syndrome … an unexpected extra serving/ of just-for-now-self-hate.
Seriously? Hundreds of my poems in print and they choose THAT one? Self-loathing and self-hate? Kids need an extra serving of those emotions on testing day?
But wait, it gets - as you might suspect about any story about Amairikuhn edgykayshun - much worse.
Teachers are also trying to survive as they are tasked with teaching kids how to take these tests, which they do by digging through past tests, posted online. Forget joy of language and the fun of discovery in poetry, this is line-by-line dissection, painful and delivered without anesthetic. One teacher wrote to me last month, working after 10 p.m., trying to figure out the test maker’s interpretation of my poem “Midnight.” This poem isn’t quite as jarring as “A Real Case,” simply symptomatic of aforementioned neuroses: It’s about insomnia.
“Hello Mrs. Holbrook. My name is Sean, and I’m an 8th grade English teacher in Texas. I’m attempting to decipher the number of stanzas in your poem, ‘Midnight’. This isn’t clear from the formatting in our most recent benchmark. The assessment asks the following question:
“Dividing the poem into two stanzas allows the poet to―
- A) compare the speaker’s schedule with the train’s schedule.
B ) ask questions to keep the reader guessing about what will happen
- C) contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays
- D) incorporate reminders for the reader about where the action takes place.
The answer is C) to contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays.
How many stanzas are in this poem? Where are they located? I would appreciate your help. Thank you so much!”
Oh, goody. I’m a benchmark. Only guess what? The test prep materials neglected to insert the stanza break. I texted him an image of how the poem appeared in the original publication. Problem one solved. But guess what else? I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it.
Say what? the "professional" quackademic and (always) anonymous test-making committee did not even bother to contact the poet herself to query her about her own intentions and meanings and why she composed her poem in a certain way, with certain stanza breaks, images, diction, and so on and simply imposed their own consensus "correct answer" on the test (and therefore, on the poet herself about her own work)? Why, I thought (and was actually taught back in the day when schools actually taught things like how to do proper academic research) that when one was doing things like, oh, say literary criticism and analysis of, oh, say a text by someone that was, oh, say, like you know, like still alive that it was, like (notice my attempt to be trendy and, like, with it and use accepted colloquial, like, diction, ya know?) a nice idea to, like, contact the authoroid (note my attempt to be, like, gender-neutral here because, like, terms like author and authoress are so, like sexist and, like, stuff) and find out what it (like, notice again how, like, politically correct I'm being, as I, like, virtue signal my raised like consciousness and stuff by adhering to an artificial, like, linguistic agenda like thing, ya know?) like intended?
,Well, of course they did. That's the name of the testing game: imposed anonymous consensus. The actual authoroids be
damned/recommended for retraining at a continuing teacher education workshop.
Apparently, Ms. Holbrook has the same issues as I and many others do with these absurd guessing games called standardized tests, and she proposed her own question:
Meantime, here is my question:
- Does this guessing game mostly evidence:
A the literacy mastery of the student?
B the competency of the student’s teacher?
C the absurdity of the questions?
D the fact that the poet, although she has never put her head in an oven, definitely has issues.
Let’s go with D since I definitely have issues, including issues with these ridiculous test questions.
Well, I could think of a few standardized test questions of my own for the quackademics preparing such tests, but since we all know that they probably all have a degree abbreviation that probably includes "Ed." somewhere in it, I won't bother you with them.
Holbrook goes on to note the same complaints others have noted about the testing "business", Todd Farley included(and if you don't know Farley's book, which my co-author Gary Lawrence and I reviewed briefly in our book Rotten to the (Common) Core, I urge you to read it, for its sheer hilarity about the testing business):
The same year that “Midnight” appeared on the STAAR test (2013), Texas paid Pearson some $500 million to administer the tests, reportedly without proper training to monitor the contract. Test scorers, who are routinely hired from ads on (where else?), Craiglist, also receive scant training, as reported by this seasoned test scorer. I’m not sure what the qualifications are for the people who make up the questions, but the ability to ride unicorns comes to mind.
Holbrook, with her unicorns comment, probably is unaware of Farley's book, but it actually is much worse than riding unicorns, since Farley documents case after case of such scorers sitting around and debating the acceptable, and non-acceptable, adjectives for the flavors of pizza, ice cream, and whether the proper words for certain chemical reactions is "fizzles", "fizzes", "splatters," and so on.
It's that bad, folks, and that nutty. And that real.
But Holbrook points out something equally nutty, and when I read this, and her conclusions about all this nonsense, I had to give her three cheers (and the Washington Post two cheers just for the guts it took to report her story):
Now comes research that reveals that a simple demographic study of the wealth of the parents could have accurately predicted the outcomes, no desks or test packets needed. Educator and author Peter Greene reports,
“Put another way, Tienken et. al. have demonstrated that we do not need to actually give the Common Core-linked Big Standardized Test in order to generate the “student achievement” data, because we can generate the same data by looking at demographic information all by itself.
Tienken and his team used just three pieces of demographic data—
1. percentage of families in the community with income over $200K
2. percentage of people in the community in poverty
3. percentage of people in community with bachelor’s degrees
Using that data alone, Tienken was able to predict school district test results accurately in most cases.”
And voila! we don't even have to administer those costly tests, nor pay for them. We can just study the demographics and assign district test scores based on that! (And just wait folks, it won't be long until some genius in Washington will actually think that's a good idea, and that we should distribute grades accordingly). Since we're talking "distribution" here, I suspect this will come from the kooky socialist snowflakes of the political left. However, chances are equally good that the hysterical lunatics of the political right will - I'm thinking of John McCain or Lindsay Graham here - will think it's a good idea because it will save money.
Ms. Holbrook ends her sortie into the hallowed halls of Amairikuhn quackademia with this conclusion and prognosis:
The only way to stop this nonsense is for parents to stand up and say, no more. No more will I let my kid be judged by random questions scored by slackers from Craigslist while I pay increased taxes for results that could just as easily have been predicted by an algorithm. That’s not education, that’s idiotic.
Idiotic, hair-splitting questions pertaining to nothing, insufficient training, profit-driven motives on the part of the testing companies, and test results that simply reveal the income and education level of the parents – For this we need to pay hundreds of millions of dollars and waste 10-45 days of classroom time each year to administer them? More if you consider the amount of days spent in test prep?
To that conclusion, Ms. Holbrook, I can only add my own hearty "Hear Hear!"
The only question remains how would we ever sell such an idea to the corrupt wankers in the Demoratic and Republithug parties?
I know! Why not blame standardized testing and failing American education on that evil-Machiavellian-super-genius-that-is-behind-everything, Vladimir Putin, and the ongoing Russian interference with American testing scores and hacking the computers that grade them and infiltrating the testing companies' "scorers" with sleeper cell speznaz units, a plot hatched by Sergei Lavrov in always-Byzantine-never-to-be-trusted-heart-of-evil-neo-Stalinist-Putinist-Russia!!?? Throw in a couple of memes about Chinese hackers, and with a few faked (and of course, Top Secret) investigations and appropriate pronouncements in the press, it's a sure thing. A Russian standardized testing-hacking plot will be something that Demorats and Republithugs and corporate media could all agree on.
Like, ya know?
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