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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wherein I take a red pen to the NJASK

My daughter recently brought home the information guide for the middle school NJASK (for the uninitiated, that’s the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge, the standardized test given in every public school in the state, upon which schools and now teachers’ jobs live and die). In previous years I never even glanced at the thing, but the state’s new plan to use test scores for teacher evaluation made me take a closer look.

While flipping through, I noticed that the sample reading piece was about Isaac Asimov, so of course I stopped to read it. Very quickly, the parent in me wanted to burn it. The writing teacher and editor in me wanted to take a red pen to it. I decided to let the more constructive personality win out.

It is one seriously crappy piece of writing. Granted, some of this is subjective. But while you can argue about individual criticisms, the weight of the evidence for crappiness is overwhelming. And, as my daughter pointed out, it’s being presented to kids as exemplary; something upon which they should model their own writing. That's just so very wrong.

 For those not interested in deciphering my red-pen chicken scratch, here are the highlights: bad grammar, typos, jargon, passive voice, awkward phrasing, juvenile tone, clichés, ambiguous wording, and worst of all, the most interesting question in the piece is never answered. As an extra bonus, I’m including two multiple choice questions which, with my Ivy League BA and MA in English lit, and my Ivy League MS in journalism, I cannot answer with any confidence.

Click on the images below to enlarge. If they're still too small to read, try following this link.









Adding: It seems I forgot to mention that the entire piece is dull as dishwater, if you'll pardon the cliché.  Would you want to run out and get your hands on some Asimov after reading this? No? But, I mean, ASIMOV!!!!!! THE BEST!!!!! Everyone knows superlatives and exclamation points add interest to any piece of writing.

4 comments:

Writing said...

Thank you Tamar for demonstrating almost everything that is wrong with state testing. Until those who design and administer the tests are held accountable for their work, students and teachers will needlessly suffer.

Renee said...

Thank you for answering a burning question that's haunted me on another subject. After reading the Gawker post "The Most Deranged Sorority Girl Email You Will Ever Read," I kept seeing comments along the lines of "well, maybe she was a little (vulgar/sexist/unhinged), but at least it's well-written." O_O

Say WHAT now? When did writing in all caps become a literary device? Are these people being sarcastic? Please tell me they're being sarcastic. [If you haven't seen this, and want to understand my horror, the link is here: http://gawker.com/5994974/the-most-deranged-sorority-girl-email-you-will-ever-read]

But now I know! These are young'uns who have been *taught* this sort of thing is good writing. Toss in a little vulgarity to "keep it real," and it's a potential masterpiece! Oh, education deform, what fresh hell have you unleashed on us all? (>_<)

Kelly said...

I absolutely love your corrections. As an elementary reading and writing teacher, the quality of these assessments have irked me for years. Question number one (which is always about theme or central idea) is unanswerable every single time. As a teacher, I know that more than one answer could be correct but must instruct my students to choose the "best" answer. I'm not even sure which one that is! The passages are always (I believe) purposely boring and the answers ambiguous at best.

As a mother of a middle school-aged daughter, I have informed her about the state exams and their true purpose. She has read several articles pertaining to the issue and together we decided she would refuse to take the test this year as a matter of principle.

I cannot wait to share your blog with everyone I know!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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