Poet Stumped by Standardized Test Questions on Own Poems

Sara Holbrook calls Texas assessment 'big baloney sandwich'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2017 8:51 AM CST
Updated Jan 14, 2017 10:32 AM CST
Poet Stumped by Standardized Questions on Her Own Poems
In this undated photo, No. 2 pencils are arranged on a standardized testing bubble answer sheet in Detroit, Mich.   (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press)

If anyone can answer questions on a standardized test about the poems "The Real Case" and "Midnight," it should be Sara Holbrook—the poet who wrote them. But as the Washington Post reports, Holbrook recently took a stab at a couple of State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams, and she didn't do so hot. "Such a dunce," was her first self-flagellating reaction to realizing she had no clue how to answer the questions about her own poems, described in a column she penned for the Huffington Post. Her self-doubt quickly turned to irritation, however, toward the test makers who decided to a) include "A Real Case," her "most neurotic poem," on a test designed for seventh-graders, and b) make the kids give a "line-by-line dissection, painful and delivered without anesthetic."

Holbrook takes to task not only the "sadistic behemoth Pearson" (the company that administered the test in 2013 and 2014, the years in which her poems were featured), but also poorly trained test scorers. Among the questions she couldn't answer were those about the poet's motivation for stanza breaks and for the capitalization of certain words. Holbrook implores parents, educators, and lawmakers to stop taking these test results so seriously. "Any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich," she writes. "Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can't protest. But I'm not dead. I protest." (An absence note from a Chicago dad took on standardized tests.)

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