Sunday, December 8, 2019
US flag

Poet can’t answer test questions on own poem

Sara Holbrook, a prolific author and poet, discovered that two of her poems had been used on the Texas state assessment in language arts, known as the STAAR test. But when she tried to answer the questions that were released with the test preparation materials, she couldn’t, she writes in the Huffington Post.

One of the poems used, “A Real Case,” she says, was one of her “most neurotic” poems. It reads, in part:

I’m just down with a sniffly case
of sudden-self-loathing-syndrome.

TODAY!
It hit like a thwop of mashed potatoes
snapped against a plate,
an unrequested extra serving
of just-for-now-self-hate.

She writes that this poem was used on the 2014 Grade 7 STAAR Reading Test. But of all the poems she’s written, she can’t for the life of her figure out why that one was selected for a middle school test. As if kids need to read about self-loathing and self-hate on test day.

“I apologize to those kids. I apologize to their teachers,” she writes. “Boy howdy, I apologize to the entire state of Texas. I know the ′90s were supposed to be some kind of golden age, but I had my bad days and, clearly, these words are the pan drippings of one of them.”

But when it came to the questions, her eyes glazed over, she wrote. One question asks, “What is the most likely reason that the poet uses capitalization in (the line, TODAY!)?”

The choices are (A) To highlight a problem the speaker experiences, (B) To stress the speaker’s expectations for tomorrow, (C) To indicate that the speaker’s condition happens unexpectedly, or (D) To show the speaker’s excitement about an upcoming event.

“Climbing into the test-maker’s mind,” she writes, “I’m guessing they want the answer C.”

It’s interesting that the question asks students to speculate on the reason why this poet put “today” in all caps, and she herself thinks (A) and (B) would be good answers, too, if any of these answers are really good.

“Here’s the thing,” she reflects. “I remember adding the ALL CAPS during revision. Was it to highlight the fact it arrived today or was it to indicate that it happened unexpectedly?” She just can’t be sure, which casts doubt on the validity of the question. If tests have too many invalid questions, the test itself is invalid—a waste of students’ time and the taxpayers’ money.

Basically, “any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest.”

But those dead poets are just as likely as Ms Holbrook was to judge these questions invalid after careful consideration as the creator of the subject matter on which they’re based. Invalid questions don’t contribute to the validity of a test.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Girls’ volleyball champs in Illinois

We congratulate the Illinois state champions in girls' volleyball: Newark, St Teresa, Sterling, & Benet Academy.

A weekend of ‘band geeks’ across America

The musical Band Geeks was in performance at a MD high school, just as marching bands from across America named a national champion.

2 dead, 3 wounded in Calif. school shooting

Another school shooting has resulted in the death of 2 California high school students. The suspect shot himself and is in custody.

Mercury makes a transit; next in 2032

A transit of Mercury occurred today and was visible from the US, provided you had sunny skies. It was one of longest possible transits.

On the Naperville BWW racist incident

A racist incident at a Naperville, IL, sports bar indicates that the threads of racism are strong, perhaps as strong as ever.

IL bill could excuse absences to vote

A proposed law in IL could give students up to two hours during the school day so they could vote in the upcoming election.

Loan forgiveness gains some bipartisan support

One Republican from GA, who used to work under Betsy DeVos at the US Education Dept, offers a plan to forgive some student loan debt.

A band teacher is IL Teacher of the Year

IL named a band teacher the 2020 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 19. He individualizes music instruction and shares his work with 1000s.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ bookends Halloween

Several high schools have decided to add a little spook to their musical stages in this season of Halloween. Music makes it happen.

New IL law ensures inclusion of LGBTQ+

A law will take effect next school year in IL that will require students to study LGBTQ history as part of the social studies curriculum.

MoCo doubles down on summer learning loss

Research is at least equivocal about summer learning loss, but maybe there's something to a new plan in Montgomery County, Md.