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Open Season on Mom

February 27, 2014

Smarter Balanced

Here is another sample item from the Stupider Vertigo Assessment in preparation for 3rd graders this coming spring.

By the way, notice the name of the test: it is “Smarter Balanced Assessment.” What does “Smarter Balanced” mean? Is it a test that can show who is smarter and also balanced? If so, it needs a comma: “Smarter, Balanced.” Or it could use a conjunction: “Smarter and Balanced.”

Or does it mean this test is intended to be part of a program to rebalance of our education in a smarter way; in that case it should be “Smarter Balance.” That’s got a nice ring to it!

Or does it mean that test is balanced in a smarter way than other tests. That’s what I think it means, but if so, “smarter” is being used as an adverb, which is an error of grammar: “balanced” is a past participle and should be modified by an adverb, not an adjective. The correct usage would be, “More Smartly Balanced” – admittedly a clumsy name, but at least one that is grammatically clear and correct.

Grammar? What’s that?

Oh yes! This is the test written by illiterates to build an illiterate society.

Freeform Assessment

This time, the essay is to be finished in free form. No suggestive sentences are offered: write whatever comes to mind when you finish reading the selection. Don’t worry about grammar; we don’t. Just tell us a little bit about your Mom.

The story concerns an episode of oversleeping on a school day. Mother and school child have both overslept: no other sibs; Dad not in the picture. Read the story and describe what happens after the bus turns the corner.

Everything I have already said applies. To wit:

  1. This is a writing assessment for third graders. They are stressed; why is it about a stressful situation? That is the impulse of someone who wants to change a child’s values. It is at least rude, and possibly abusive.
  2. The story concerns a Mom who failed in her responsibility. In the narrative, the child (maybe 9 years old)  takes equal responsibility: “We both overslept.” Charming, but who is really responsible? For a third grader, the mother is responsible for household order. School materials these days commonly have bad moms and nice teachers. That is propaganda. Are there bad moms? Of course, and bad teachers too! Is it appropriate to bring this up during a test? No; it is not.
  3. A stressed child is a suggestible child. If an assessor had no compunction about brainwashing and if he wanted to push a negative view of motherhood, this would be the correct way to do it.

We Oversleep

So: here’s the story.

A student is writing a story for his English class about being late for school one day. Read the following paragraphs from the story and complete the task that follows.

This morning, I woke up late. My alarm clock never went off! The only reason I woke up at all was because I heard my dog barking. I walked down the hall to my mother’s room to find she was still in bed. “Mom! Wake up!” I yelled. “I think we both overslept.” I looked over at the clock and it was 7:30 a.m. School starts in one hour – great!

I ran into the bathroom. There, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and then looked in the mirror. My hair was standing straight up! I combed it down with water as fast as I could.

After that, I threw on some clothes and shoes. Racing into the kitchen, I grabbed my backpack from the table and an apple from the fruit bowl. “Bye, Mom!” I yelled as I pushed through the screen door letting it slam shut behind me.

As I ran for the sidewalk, I watched the bus pull away from the curb and turn down the next street. Soon it was out of sight.

In one or two paragraphs, write an ending to the story that follows from the events and experiences in the story.

 What’s up?

Obviously, in completing the story, the child tells as much about his family life as about his English competence, maybe more. Indeed, if writing competence is actually the goal of this article, why is it full of blunders? You might say: well, after all, the story presents itself as the work of a student.

Not an acceptable excuse! The 3rd grader is under stress. You are modeling bad English for him. That is harmful. It is an abuse of the privilege of testing a child.

Here are the writing errors and the open season on Mom:

  1. “The only reason … was because…” Correct English is “The reason was that…” or “I only woke up because…” “The reason is because” is poor construction. You may argue that this is a student essay; people talk this way. I repeat: it is a bad model, and this is a test; you can’t model bad English on an English test. You may respond that English is changing. Fine. Let it change. Don’t push the change on an assessment; that is not your mandate.
  2. “I walked down the hall… “Mom! Wake up!” I yelled. “I think we both overslept.” This is not an error of grammar, but of character development, don’t you think? Either you are running and yelling, or you are walking and graciously sharing responsibility. Not both. So the story feels fake. You can say that, being offered as the work of a student, it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. Right; but does it have to be fake? Could this really happen? Doesn’t it feel weird to read it? This kind of disorientation is completely uncalled for, and the student feels it; it adds to his stress.

Meantime, where is Mom?

  1. He runs along out the door, without breakfast. (I think it’s a he because of the way he fixed his hair. It might have been a girl, of course.) I watched the bus pull away from the curb… Alone. Why didn’t the mom get up while he was brushing his teeth and do something clever, like butter his toast or flag down the school bus? What kind of a Mom is she?
  2. Since he says “Bye, Mom,” we think he loves her and also wants her love. However, it appears that she is still in bed; anyway, she hasn’t said a word, hasn’t opened the door for him. Nothing. Doesn’t even answer, “Bye, darling.”

To finish the story, we need two paragraphs from a third grader under stress, presumably to be graded by some semi-literate intern who probably can’t read cursive but might be able to figure out whether this child likes his Mom.

So, our 3rd grader gets to tell what kind of Mom he has, or perhaps what kind he wishes he had. Or will he explain something about the wonders of personal independence at the tender age of nine? Is she on drugs? Did she work late last night? Or party? Is she, perhaps, dead? Does she have a morning job that she might be late for? Will he turn around and find she is ready to drive him to school with scrambled eggs and warm chicken pie in his lap? Will he suddenly remember that he is homeschooling now and he can sleep in too? Uh-oh!

Or should our 3rd grader just end the story with a volcanic eruption so that he doesn’t have to answer any of these questions, which are nobody’s business and certainly not the Fed’s?

Again: disclaimer. This item is not on the test. Something else is, however, and you can bet that your child is going to be invited to offer inappropriately personal descriptions of his family. He is, after all, only in third grade.


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