By Elizabeth Kiem
The merits of standardized testing for high school students have been debated for years, coming under even closer scrutiny as more and more states adopt such tests as a bellwether for hiring and graduation. Last week, proponents of mandatory standards tests took a fresh hit, thanks to the ill-conceived policy of New York State’s education department to purge test materials of all references to race, religion, ethnicity, or body weight.
Confronted with a storm of protest over the disclosure that the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Annie Dillard, and Pat Conroy, among others, had been “tidied up” for the statewide Regents exam, officials promised to refrain from meddling from now on.
Whatever detractors– and there are many– have to say about Virginia’s mandatory Standards of Learning tests, it appears that charges of censorship are unwarranted.
“It is our policy not to modify copyrighted pieces in any way,” says the phonetically apropos Shelley Loving-Ryder at the Department of Education.
I’m happy to report that based on the 2001 English: Reading/Literature and research exam, it does appear that the Virginia SOLs are clean. Dylan Thomas still declares that “old age should burn and rave.” Robert Hayden still describes a household of “chronic anger.”
True, there was an anxious moment when it appeared Ralph Waldo Emerson had been tampered with, forcing him to enthuse “I am part or parcel of God,” instead of “part or particle,” but it turns out that the error lies with the unscrupulous website I was using for comparison. The pat phrase is indeed authentic, while the latter version, smacking of cellular biology and transubstantiation, can be found at www.orst.edu/instruct, if any disgruntled Protestants, creationists, or atheists wish to boycott.
So let’s give the Virginia DOE credit where credit is due. God is still present in “Nature.” Indeed, he’s still having “intercourse with heaven and earth,” as bawdy as that may sound, and finally, he is still a “He.”
Albemarle County School Superintendent for Instruction Jean Murray says there has been no local criticism of the literature portion of the SOL. As for the scandal that sent the Regents exam back to the drawing board, Murray declined to comment, saying “The only thing that I know intimately about the Regents exam is that I had to take them to graduate from High School.”
We hope she wasn’t to scarred by the experience, and that she knows today that Singer wrote primarily about Jews and Gentiles.