Desks in straight rows
Backpacks at the front of the room
No food or drink
Teachers turned into flight attendants
With carefully worded,
God-awful repetitive scripts:
You may not talk while test materials are distributed
And unauthorized electronic devices are prohibited during the testing session
You’ve got your Test Booklet and your Answer Document
And two hours to fill
Mind-numbing right when you need your brain alert
That song you heard on the radio driving to school
Stuck in your head
Number two pencils vie for the title of dullest
With “read this passage and answer questions 7 through 12”
Learned the procedure
(And the answers)
In elementary school
The bar set so low some people trip.
So used to running hurdles
That they forgot how they learned to walk.
Unauthorized electronic devices are prohibited during the testing session
It’s hard to believe them
When they tell us to be more than our grades
To look at the world beyond AP textbooks and SAT prepbooks
When our ticket out of high school
Is a scantron and a two and a half page essay
This is not the place for personality
Or excess knowledge
Artistic ability or stylistic writing
Please just put your periods at the end of your sentences.
And commas in the usual places,
No surprises, thanks.
Now is not the time to show us how you shine
Please just bubble here
Fit yourself into this box
Do not concern yourself with outside of it
Jump through hoops here
Unauthorized electronic devices are prohibited during the testing session.
Author’s note: I took the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam, phonetically KAY-SEE) this week. Four hours of boring, easy questions that determine whether I get to graduate high school. And yes, I’m only a sophomore (you have five more times to try the test if you fail the first time). We weren’t allowed to do anything (even read a book or drink water) until EVERYONE in our room was done testing. The inspiration for this poem came while I was bored, tired, and really frustrated at The System, waiting for the test to be over.
2 thoughts on “Poetry: Standardized Life”
I really connect with this poem right now. I remember standardized testing as evil back in my day (when we used dinosaur teeth to sharpen our pencils), but it is so much worse now. I grieve for my children and all the ways they are labeled by these tests that can in no way measure their abilities to learn, creativity, and kindness. And to me, those are the three things that make a person great—not a number on a standardized test.
I feel exactly the same way and I’m glad you connected to the poem. I wish the world we lived it relied less on what we look like on paper and more on who we are as individuals.