Daniel Pinkwater, an icon among geek readers, has always said that his audience is smart. This week he heard from several fans in New York State, who were surprised to find an excerpt from his novel Borgel on the state’s English Language Arts test for 8th graders.
At least, it purported to be an excerpt — actually, as several astute kids noted, it was subtly but significantly altered. But mostly, they wanted to know, what were the right answers? And Mr. Pinkwater, being ever available to his adoring fans through his website’s P-Zone “Talk to DP Forum,” wisely went right to the source.
Here’s an excerpt from the exchange:
Anonymous 8th grader:
Listen, I love your work, but seriously? Selling out to the state test?
Also, before my class goes crazy, which was the wisest animal in the hare and the pineapple?
Pinkwater’s reply began:
OK, here is the deal. There are these companies that make up tests and various reading materials, and sell them to state departments of education for vast sums of money. One of the things they do is purchase rights from authors to use excerpts from books. For these they pay the authors non-vast sums of money. Then they edit the passages according to… I have no idea what perceived requirements.
Other writers have gone public about the changes made to their work as used by testmakers — changes that sometimes twisted the original meaning in damaging ways. But Pinkwater’s response to the students about the nonsensical ways in which the test company changed his already ridiculous story is probably the best illustration of why standardized tests measure what matters least.
And not to slight students in other states: In 2010, someone set up a Facebook page in which the story of the Pineapple and its Sleeves could be discussed at length.
What do you think: Does great absurdist kidlit make for great test questions?