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Opinion: I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems

When I realized I couldn’t answer the questions posed about two of my own poems on the Texas state assessment tests (STAAR Test), I had a flash of panic – oh, no! Not smart enough. Such a dunce. My eyes glazed over. I checked to see if anyone was looking. The questions began to swim on the page. Waves of insecurity. My brain in full spin.

The two poems in question are A REAL CASE, appearing on the 2014 Grade 7 STAAR Reading Test, and MIDNIGHT, appearing on the 2013 Grade 8 STAAR Reading Test. Both poems originally appeared in Walking on the Boundaries of Change, Boyds Mills Press, 1998.

Let me begin by confessing that A REAL CASE is my most neurotic poem. I have a pile of them to be sure, but this one is the sour cherry on top. The written evidence of my anxieties, those evil gremlins that ride around on tricycles in my mind shooting my self-confidence with water pistols. How in the name of all that’s moldy did this poem wind up on a proficiency test?  

Dose of reality: test makers are for-profit organizations. My poems are a whole lot cheaper than Mary Oliver’s or Jane Kenyon’s, so there’s that. But how would your vulnerable, nervous, number two pencil-gripping seventh grade self have felt opening your test packet to analyze poetic lines such as this: I’m just down with a sniffly case/of sudden-self-loathing-syndrome…an unexpected extra serving/ of just-for-now-self-hate.