Friday, November 2, 2012


Part of most teachers' responsibilities is administering standardized tests. In the interest of full disclosure, I must now confess that as a student I looked forward to standardized tests. To me, they were like a day full of puzzles and trivia, and I flew through them gleefully. I liked everything about them, especially the ritual-- the interruption of our daily schedule, the number two pencils, the careful bubbling, the odd minutes assigned for each subtest, the incantation of the proctor reading the directions.

Imagine my thrill, then, the first time it was my voice chanting those magical words, Read the directions to yourself as I read them aloud...

Well, over the years, despite my love of being the sage on the stage, my attitude toward standardized testing has evolved. Interrupting the daily schedule, my students' learning time, no longer seems like such a great idea. I have also learned that not all people are like me, and these assessments are no fun for them. In addition, as an educated educator, I question not only the value of the data we are collecting, but at times, the questions we are asking. (But that's above my pay grade.)

Just today, I was reading the sample question and answers on a language test to a group of very capable students. The task was to look at a sentence and evaluate the sentence structure. Swimming in the river and quacking were the ducks, was the original passage. Odd phrasing, true, but kind of interesting. Then I recited the other options, one of which was, The ducks they were swimming, and in the river they quacked.

My students laughed, but one raised her hand and said, "I kind of like that one."

And I knew just what she meant. It was unusual, but evocative, and technically not incorrect. (For the record, the example was grammatically sound as well.) The rules of standardized test proctoring are clear, however, and I knew how I must respond, despite any collateral damage to my credibility as a writing teacher who encourages creativity.

"Read the question and do the best you can," I said.

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