Poetry: Standardized Life


Standardized tests

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.


Once again:

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

Print legibly

Fit yourself into this box

Do not concern yourself with outside of it

Jump through hoops here


And here.


And remember

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

  1. 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.


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