Saturday, March 21, 2009

Get Into the Box

What do standardized tests actually measure? Do they measure reading skills, the ability to reason or analyze? Maybe, but I'm starting to think that what they actually measure is the test taker's ability to function inside the proverbial box.

Case in point would be the state high school exit exam, which students statewide took last week. Part of the exam is an essay. Students are given a prompt for which they have to write a response. Failure to follow instructions, no matter how well written the essay may be, results in a score that indicates the student is not proficient as a writer. For example, if the prompt asks students to write about a significant historical person that they studied in elementary or middle school and they write about Obama, they get dinged because he's too recent to qualify.

The student may well have written a wonderful essay, with a definite point of view, voice, interesting ideas, excellent grammar and spelling - as one of my students did (to a different question) on this week's test. He did, however, write from the point of view of an X, instead of the point of view of a Y, so when the graders read his essay, he will be given a score of non-proficient, not because he is not a proficient writer, but because he was not able to get into the box.

Ironically, I think that this very student, who remained true to his own voice even at the risk of failing a test that is a graduation requirement, may well become a writer one day - precisely because of his determination to adhere to that very voice.

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