Thursday, October 19, 2006

a byproduct of blind bureaucracy

Over at Maud Newton, Joe Miller (author of Cross-X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season with an Inner-City Debate Squad) interviews John McNally (author of America's Report Card, "which imagines standardized tests as a secret government effort to fingerprint the minds of our nation’s youth"). McNally's novel seems inspired by his employment as a standardized test scorer.

McNally: Occasionally, a student would write an essay answer that would exhibit more intelligence than any other essay answer I’d seen, but more often than not, the essay would be subversive in some way, questioning the essay question itself while illuminating some truly great points. But here were essays (finally!) with souls behind them — not just some student who’d been trained how to write "the good essay." Sadly, though, these essays generally received three points out of six because they fell into the "convoluted" category. The "good essays" — by "good" I mean formulaic, boring, and teachable — generally received six points.

We were told, time and again, that we were evaluating groups of students, not individuals, so we shouldn’t get bogged down worrying about an individual’s score. Still, it seems fucked-up beyond belief to me.

My conclusion? Standardized tests are great at evaluating people who can memorize; they fail when it comes to evaluating people who can bring disparate ideas together and then synthesize it all into a meaningful whole. Maybe I’m biased because I believe that synthesis is what also makes for a good fiction writer. But, really: The standardized testing industry is elitist because anyone with money can learn how to memorize shit. The ability to synthesize is (for me, at least) the true test of intelligence.