When Was The Last Time We Mentioned Standardized Tests?

March 6th, 2005 · 6 Comments
by Booksquare

We have a confession to make: we failed our first standardized test. Boredom. As with many things, it backfired on us. This, we firmly believe, is because our mother was the school librarian. Things didn’t add up, and we (the victim in this story) were discovered to not be living up to our potential.

In our defense, we’ve made a career of this, despite the best efforts of trained professionals.

Back then (the olden days), reading was a part of our daily school day routine. We were the kid who sussed out the mother’s notes while walking to school (this was an innocent time when five-year olds could walk to school alone). Her cursive was no match for our nosiness. We later fought [name redacted to protect the innocent] for the title of “read most books in a month”. Every month. Hey, he was older — we didn’t feel bad. We (as previously discussed) participated in a program called USSR (Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading) during the Cold War (even at the age of 8, this struck us as odd). Remember, we lived on the edges of a Strategic Missile Command. Somewhere in there, we did math and science, but, in our memories, those remain hazy. We didn’t appreciate them until later. Possibly this is a chick thing.

The mother remains a school librarian, and has inspired more readers than she can count, despite the fact that budget priorities (we won’t get political, but a certain Federal program) mean she won’t get any new books this year. Unless she buys them herself. We’ve made our donation, and must mention that Washington Mutual contributed. Thank you from someone who won’t benefit directly. Unless you’re close to the education system, you don’t realize how much this means.

This year, kids are facing the challenge of essay tests on the SAT. At first, our reaction was, “Cool. How much easier does life get?” Then we thought twice. The kind of writing necessary to toss off a five-paragraph essay (the cornerstone of all academic writing) has been lost in favor the same thing lead to the decline of reading in classrooms. It’s hard to standardize test writing. It’s near impossible to standardize reading. We can tell you the bullet point of 1066; it would take volumes to explain the significance.

We spend a lot of time talking education with peers and the mother. We know a lot of smart people (rule: surround yourself with people who make you look good), and each of them cite reading as a key factor. If the habit isn’t established early, sure, it can be picked up later, but when the habit is established early, you’ve created the next generation of critical thinkers.

“Reading has always been seen as a source of considerable pleasure for many. This is important, but perhaps has been forgotten by some schools in their pursuit of higher tests results that will improve their position in the league tables…”

PS — Brenda…right now, it’s the Stones!

File Under: Square Pegs

6 responses so far ↓

  • Anne Killpack // Mar 7, 2005 at 12:09 am

    Ah, boredom! The great enemy of learning! That, and stubbornness, in my case at least.

    If reading was supposed to be so wonderful, then why did the teacher keep confiscating my books for reading when I was supposed to be doing something else? Or get chastized for reading ahead in my textbooks out of boredom?

    Somewhere in early elementary school, I encountered the SRA Reading Labs. http://www.mcgraw-hill.co.uk/sra/rl_choice.html

    They’re basically a box full of color-coded “story cards” with a “story” on one side, and some reading comprehension questions on the other side. These were assigned as a sort of extra credit option during less-structured time; students could work their way through the box and get some sort of credit for having completed a “color unit”.

    This hsould have been ideal for a child like me, who would read scraps of newspaper found on sidewalks if I’d finished the books I was carrying with me. But there was a big catch: you HAD to start from the beginning of the box. You weren’t allowed to pick a starting point somewhere that matched your reading level; you had to start with “See Spot Run”. Since I was already tackling grown-up books, I naturally refused to lower myself to such “boring” stuff. My textbooks were more interesting, and library books even better.

    At some point partway through the year I began reading the cards – at least the advanced ones – just for osmething to read. Examining the whole thing a little more closely at that point, I realized that the teacher had no records of our work; she would accept any color of cards for credit. I looked over the shoulder of the next bright kid to see what color cards she was reading, and started turning those in. My grades improved. This may not have been the first time I realized the system was flawed and manipulable, but it certainly wasn’t the last, to the crying shame of my academic records.

  • Michelle // Mar 7, 2005 at 5:21 am

    I think schools also fail to teach the joy of writing. In their quest to produce a standardized 5 paragraph essay, they make children into little robotic writers who have an introduction, body, and conclusion all neatly tied up into the most boring essay known to mankind.

    As an English teacher, I can say this. I’ve graded hundreds of the worst essays I’ve ever seen. They bore me out of my mind. I shudder to think of what the SAT people must go through.

    Give me fiction any day!

  • KathyF // Mar 7, 2005 at 8:03 am

    I once worked as a scorer for a standardized test company. We read essays on 4 different topics by fifth graders (in Minnesota). About once a day, I’d read a “4” (top score) essay–one out of 200 or so papers.

    The good ones were truly awesome. The bad ones were mostly about going to Wisconsin Dells or about Kevin Garner, who was some sports star I didn’t know but knew pretty well after reading about how these fifth graders looked up to him.

    Anyway, the experience is why I never entered contests. Unless all the judges are on the same page (we professional scorers call it “calibration”) there is no validity to them.

    I ran a contest once, and tried to calibrate my judges. They all rebelled.

  • Brenda Coulter // Mar 7, 2005 at 10:07 am

    The Stones?

  • Shanna Swendson // Mar 7, 2005 at 10:29 am

    This has been one of my soapboxes for a while now. In early elementary school, reading is a fun activity and the weekly trip to the school library is a treat. Then as soon as kids get good at reading, they turn reading into a chore. You have to analyze for theme and Deeper Meaning and what the author was trying to say. There should also be room for teaching reading for pleasure, maybe a unit on exploring the various fiction genres, some discussion of characterization and plot, and generally offering a variety of suggested reading choices to give kids a chance to figure out what they enjoy. I had some teachers who did things like allowing us fifteen minutes to read anything we wanted to at the start of class, or who gave us points for the number of books of any kind we read during the semester, but in general it was more like they wanted us to think of reading as a chore. And then there were the assigned books, which all seemed to be about death and/or injustice — fun stuff that’s sure to make kids want to read more (not).

  • booksquare // Mar 9, 2005 at 10:12 pm

    You all are great — I really enjoyed this discussion. SRA? I was an SRA baby. What with how things work, I had to go back to SRA because I could already read. Hey, if one is naturally nosy, one needs tools!

    Now, while the posts here don’t reflect this, I will totally advocate for the five-paragraph essay. Totally. I’m a huge proponent of structure. Granted, once I have my structure, things go crazy. But when I need to get a point across, I fall back on the five-paragraph.

    As I get older, I appreciate my education more. It was incredible, and I think I was very lucky. And if you feel this way…I’ve recently discovered that those “boxtops for education” things are truly used by schools to raise money. The mother and her student council collect these to support programs. Your local schools would appreciate the effort. If you don’t know a school, I do…