Your New BEAU: (D) The Owl.

It isn’t really worth repeating, because most already agree: Standardized tests are inadequate judges of a student’s actual skills and intellect.

The news has been buzzing about Pearson’s English Language Arts test and their nearly unintelligible insertion of a mangled Daniel Pinkwater excerpt. You can see it for yourself here.

This nonsensical story (characterized as such by Pinkwater himself, who specializes in absurdist literature) was given to 8th graders in New York State along with six meaningless multiple choice questions meant to evaluate the 13 year olds’ reading comprehension skills.

More from Daniel Pinkwater on the test and the Pineapple passage here.

Also in the NYTimes recently: an article about new “e-Rater” technology—computers that grade standardized test essays.

A task once reserved solely for the realm of the sentient evaluator, a number of testing companies are developing e-rating technologies—again including Pearson—and testing the computer’s ratings against human graders.

MIT’s Les Perelman does his own testing of the Educational Testing Service’s e-Rater (Pearson declined to have Perelman show “why it doesn’t work”) in the NYTimes article. The e-Rater awards points to essays that are longer, have “bigger” words, and use conjunctions—all of which indicate a more thought-out, articulate, and complex argument. The e-Rater cannot fact-check.

Where am I going with all of this?

The point of these tests is, supposedly, to evaluate the reading and writing proficiencies of these kids, right? To help make them better readers and better writers?

Here’s a brief explanation of how Pearson creates the tests.

I guess where I am going with this is simply to ask what this world is coming to (as usual). Reading tests that barely show the tester’s comprehension of the English language and writing tests that barely show the tester’s interest in giving a fair assessment of the students’ writing…

And what does all of this mean for books (of course) and literacy in America? Print and electronic publications are the essence of how we communicate with each other (when we are not face-to-face, or screen-to-screen a la Skype). Such a misuse of a literary passage as the “Pineapple and the Hare” fiasco is a disservice to the literature it draws from. How can students be asked to give sensible answers about a nonsensical story? And then, later in life, how will they be able to fully appreciate good absurdist literature (such as the work of Pinkwater, or of David Foster Wallace) without finding themselves asking the same irrelevant questions that these tests do, sorely missing the point and unarmed with the less “standardized” and more abstract analytical skills that could open up the world of good books to them?

A big question, I know. And one I can’t really answer except to say, fight the man!

The tests are not likely to go away…hopefully they don’t discourage the thousands of students who are subjected to them from becoming  readers.

Students! You can all be good readers, and have fun doing it, too! Feel free to view these tests with a resigned disdain. Ace them, because you know what bogus game they’re playing at. Get out of high school and read the books you want with an open, curious and questioning mind. And read some of them with a good professor who will get you asking even more questions (this is good!). And maybe you will find more meaningful answers than “(D) The Owl.”

MORAL: It’s often not about “Which animal spoke the wisest words?” but more about what those wise words are and the implications of those words.

Don’t stop reading books!

 

Your New BEAU

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