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[Susan notes: This letter was written in response to the tempest in New York State over revelation by a parent that the English Regents exam had edited literary passages.]

Submitted to New York Times but not published
06/10/2002

There's a Word for People Who Manufacture Prose for Kids to be Quizzed On

I find myself in agreement with Roseanne DeFabio, the New York State Education Department's assistant commissioner for curriculum, instruction and assessment, when she points out that "Even the most wonderful writers don't write literature for children to take on a test."

Exactly.

There's a word for people who manufacture prose for children to be quizzed on. That word is neither "wonderful" nor "writer."

The answer is obvous: Stop testing children on literature. Only in school does literature suffer such indignity. Ask yourself the last time anybody checked on your interpretation of Hemingway, Jack London, or that other New York Regents favorite, Roger Ascham. At least they spelled his name right. They actually misspelled Anne Lamott's name on one of the several tests for which they mined her works. In California, the test makers showed Edna St. Vincent Millay as a stodgy African-American who looked as though she might be attending her retirement ceremony as headmistress at a reform school, not the poet described by contemporaries as a daffodil.

But even when test makers get the literature right, testing kids on it is dead wrong. It's long past time for authors and publishers to exert some moral authority and demand that test makers cease and desist.


Susan Ohanian


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