Every once in a while, an essay by Claire Needell Hollander appears in The New York Times. I make sure to read it. She is smart & witty & wise. And, her writing, which both entertains and enlightens, always inspires me to write down my own thoughts in response to whatever it is she is writing about, in this case: standardized testing in classrooms & the wisdom of reading in bathrooms.
Here’s the link to her latest essay titled “Testing My Twins,” in the The New York Times (10/20/12):
And here are the memories, observations and thoughts about bathroom reading and testing she inspired me to jot down: I figured out that the bathroom made a good reading room when I was in 6th grade, the same age as Hollanders’ twin daughters. I would have preferred a tree house, but the bathroom served the same purpose: an escape from chaos. At that age, having survived my parents’ tumultuous divorce, a move from another country, and three new schools in two years, all I wanted to do was read. I’ve allowed my daughter, who is in 10th grade, to read anywhere and everywhere (except crossing streets, same as Hollanders’ twins) and (as some parents have been aghast to learn) for as late as she wants (unlike my husband and I who had to take a flashlight under the covers at her age). A few sleepy mornings have been a tiny price to pay for an avid reader, who writes well because she loves to read. Thus, I fully admire the reconsideration on Hollander’s family’s bathroom reading ban because… it simply might not accomplish any worthwhile goal. Likewise, I agree with Hollander’s assessment of standardized tests because…they simply might not accomplish any worthwhile goal. Furthermore, I think she is right when she says they are an unreliable measure of student progress or teacher effectiveness. Last weekend, our daughter took the PSAT, a practice college entrance exam. Afterward, we could tell that she was mystified that anyone could think that the test was an accurate assessment of knowledge or proficiency. She said, “We were tested on all sorts of obscure words that only someone who reads the dictionary for entertainment would recognize. These are not words one generally uses in educated conversation.” She added, “Then we were given sentences with long underlined sections that needed re-writing and we were to choose the best re-written section from three choices.” Shaking her head in disbelief, she added, “This was supposed to test our writing ability.” This morning, I found myself hunting through a filing cabinet for my old academic records. Lo and behold, I found my SAT and GRE test results. Taken nine years apart, in 1975 and 1984, my scores were almost exactly the same. They dropped exactly 10 points on both the verbal and math sections. My scores weren’t great on either test, yet I was a good undergraduate student and a very good graduate student. I’m glad no one seemed to be looking too carefully at my test results. As Hollander might say, “They failed to capture my progress.”