When I heard that poetry was being put in standardized testing, my first reaction was confusion. How would that even work? After looking into it, it looks like students have to read poems and answer questions about similes, metaphors, diction and other devices that poets use in their work. These questions are on standardized tests, exams that are famous for having confusing and sometimes misleading or just plain indecipherable questions. Putting poetry into the mix just makes it all the more difficult, since poetry itself is famous for being vague and able to be deciphered in multiple ways. This is setting students up to fail.
Poetry can be anything. It can have rules or not, it can make sense or it can be just a jumble. Take “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” by E. E. Cummings. This poem is just a large bunch of random letters and symbols. There is no pattern, no stanzas, no similes or metaphors. When I saw this for the first time I was in sixth grade, prime standardized testing age. It took five minutes of my classmates and I staring at this mess before the teacher had had enough of us not understanding it and told us how to decipher it. Even she had to look up the full translation online. Obviously, this is the most extreme example, but if this poem is taught to us in of middle school, I wonder what kinds of poems will be on tests.
There is one poem that I know for sure was on a standardized test and that was “Midnight” by Sara Holbrook. Holbrook mentioned in a post that an eighth-grade teacher had sent her a message asking about this poem in the practice test he was using to teach his students. The question asked why she had split the poem into two stanzas but the poem in the test booklet didn’t show the stanza break. Additionally, Holbrook said that the reason she did put the stanza break in there wasn’t even an option on the test, let alone the answer. The people who create these questions are just guessing at the answers. How are the students supposed to know the answers if the people creating the test don’t?
Holbrook also wrote about another one of her poems that were in this test booklet, a poem that she called her most neurotic one. It’s called “A Real Case” and it talks about self-hatred. With lines like “An unrequested serving of just-for-now self-hate,” this poem isn’t exactly what eighth graders should be reading during a test.
According to Holbrook, her poems don’t cost as much as those from many other poets, which might be why the company behind this test chose her poetry. She does, however, have many other poems that are not nearly as depressing or confusing, so it’s very surprising that these were the ones that were picked. These companies do not really seem to care in the impact their choices will have on the kids who take these tests. It looks to me like they just wanted cheap poems.
The companies not caring is a problem, one that could have more negative effects than one would normally think.
The knowledge of students in this country is measured by standardized tests. Most of them aren’t even part of a student’s grade in school – they are just for the state to gather student data and, in some states, evaluate teachers.
This puts pressure on teachers to make sure students are prepared for standardized tests, taking valuable class-time to try to explain why the author of a poem did something even if the correct answer isn’t an option.
These things would be so much easier if test-making companies would just contact the authors of the poems to see if the answers to their questions are correct or put in poems that aren’t too confusing or depressing. Better yet, they could mitigate all this nonsense by forgoing poems altogether. If this country must have standardized tests, at least let them be accurate and make sense.