“Ker-pow! Wham! Bang! I fell to the ground in pain as my sister rushed toward me.”
A four. I got a four. What is wrong with them? An intellectual essay with developed vocabulary, sentence structure, and a strong argument only got me a lousy two last year. Clearly standardized testing in this state is looking for something different. I glanced at my last sentence and almost gagged on its obtuseness:
“Now, I look back on the day of my accident and appreciate everything I have - my talent for basketball, my friends, and especially my family.”
Touching, isn’t it? An imaginary story with imaginary feelings and imaginary people. In a way, I feel like I’ve outsmarted the test, but it is appalling that such a lack of originality, style, and most of all, truth, is another key to high-school success. This year, in spite of my previous writing score, I paid attention to every writing sample my English teacher threw at me.
“This is an example of a zero score,” she said, putting a transparency of an “actual” TAKS paper on the overhead. Messy handwriting plagued the screen with incomplete sentences and incomprehensible ideas. A three-year-old could do better. She continued to show each score in progression. A one wasn’t much better, and seeing the example of a two was almost embarrassing - sloppy handwriting, incomplete ideas, terrible grammar that, as a spelling and grammar guru, broke my heart. By then I felt I had something to prove. The example of a three was nauseating, with increasingly flawless handwriting and yawn-worthy ideas. Overdeveloped and melodramatic, the same ideas were repeated in different words. The only difference in a four was a more riveting (and obviously fake) personal experience, complete with onomatopoeia for an “exciting” introduction.
Every example I saw afterward included the ever-tawdry “Pow!” “Bam!” or “Splat!” I decided, for the sake of my sanity and grades, to adhere to these shabby standards. As I wrote, I almost laughed. I wrote like this in fifth grade. The writer in me screamed in anguish as I printed adolescent words in neat, bubbly letters. By the time I was done, I craved literary substance, even fought the urge to go home and write a better essay.
Though I find myself one of the most passionate about these abhorrent standards, many students I know agree that the criteria of standardized tests are unjustified. One told me he wrote a well thought-out paper on the ridiculousness of the test since the prompt allowed for discussion of something with which the writer disagreed. The essay was backed up with plenty of intelligent reasoning but he received a zero. The graders clearly were unable to distinguish between disregard for the test and its rules and the writer’s right to express his opinion respectfully.
I am still deciding how to write next year’s senior writing test issued by the state of Texas. Should I comply with my state’s disconcerting views of how the average student should write? Or, do I write from the heart, what I know through years of reading and writing is considered an impressive and independent argument?
High school is an experience where we learn to think for ourselves, but standardized tests only teach us to think the way the state wants us to. Overall, I am disgusted with my state’s lack of flexibility in terms of its students’ writing freedoms, and the atrocious standards to which it expects us to comply.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.