As spring semester starts for college students and high schoolers return from winter break, something glaringly arises from the haze of the holidays. We’re back to questioning the necessity and integrity of standardized testing, which has many people wondering if these praised booklets of questions and convoluted answers actually benefit the child and accurately distinguish intelligence.
In an interview recently, published poet Sara Holbrook attempted to answer some Texas standardized test questions on two of her own poems, “Midnight” and “A Real Case.” Upon approaching the first couple questions, she candidly and humorously reflected.
“When I realized I couldn’t answer the questions posed about two of my own poems on the Texas state assessment tests (STAAR Test), I had a flash of panic – oh, no! Not smart enough. Such a dunce. My eyes glazed over.”
The first problem she pointed out is the general use of her poem, “A Real Case.” She describes it as one of her most neurotic poems about “those evil gremlins that ride around on tricycles in my mind shooting my self-confidence with water pistols.” Utilized on a seventh-grade assessment test, for middle schoolers already scared to death, face to face with a Scantron and sheepishly armed with a #2 pencil, who would deem this material appropriate enough for them to be interrogated upon?
Now her poem “Midnight” came with its own slew of problems and flaws as well when used. One point that baffled me was a question that asked, “Why did this poet divide the poem into two stanzas?” In the interview, Sara Holbrook reveals that she personally had no stylistic or poetic device oriented reason as to why she put the break there.
She only put the break there because that’s where she naturally paused when she performed the poem aloud.
With this revelation, technically all of the possible answers provided for that question would be incorrect because, as Holbrook remarks, “that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it.”
Mutilating and eviscerating poems stanza by stanza, simile by simile, trying to ridiculously guess what the author meant, clearly has no place on standardized testing. It suffocates the creative energy from the poems themselves, stifles the poems from inspiring our youth.
Standardized testing, not only upon poems, is riddled with issues. With the $1.7 billion the U.S. government blindly dumps every year towards this ineffective and erroneous practice, a sudden revolution is necessary. With this new semester upon us and this fresh year of 2017, I can only hope that radical change will be implemented. As of now, the future of creatives and students alike appears bleak.