New York’s eighth-grade writing exam is A Test You Need to Fail, writes teacher Ruth Ann Dandrea at Rethinking Schools. The exam, which is meant to predict who’ll pass the Regents exam in 11th grade, gives full credit only to students who cite two facts from the reading material in each answer, she complains.
In your constructed response—no matter how well written, correct, intelligent, noble, beautiful, and meaningful it is—if you’ve not collected any specific facts from the provided readings (even if you happen to know more information about the chosen topic than the readings provide), then you will get a zero.
Don’t go for a good score, Dandrea advises students.
I applaud you, sample writer: When asked the either/or question, you began your response, “Honestly, I think it is both.” You were right, and you were brave, and the test you were taking was neither. And I applaud you, wildest 8th grader of my own, who—when asked how a quote applied to the two characters from the two passages provided—wrote, “I don’t think it applies to either one of them.” Wear your zeroes proudly, kids. This is a test you need to fail.
It’s possible to argue for “both” or “neither,” citing facts from the reading and beyond to support that opinion. If her students are good writers, as she believes, it should be easy. Yet Dandrea thinks the exam is not just too narrow. She calls it “criminal.”
As an aside, Dandrea also mentions she gives students 10 minutes in every class period to read books of their own choosing. Is this a good use of class time?