Why Aren’t Authors Part of the STAAR Writing Process?

The test creators didn’t ask one poet about the meaning behind her poems – so they made it up.

By Alexandra HartJanuary 11, 2017 5:23 pm

The STAAR Test has come under fire since its inception in 2012 for vendor problems, grading inconsistencies and more. But one poet is also saying the test’s ambiguous questions are a big issue – one that she experienced firsthand when she realized she couldn’t answer test questions about her own work.

An eighth-grade English teacher in Texas contacted poet Sara Holbrook in December asking a question about the stanzas in her poem “Midnight”, which appeared on the latest benchmark STAAR Test. The formatting of the poem had mistakes in it, rendering the number of stanzas indecipherable. But the question about the poem was specifically addressing why Holbrook had divided the poem into two stanzas.

The benchmark test went on to ask other questions about the author’s intent and reasoning in constructing the poem. But Holbrook didn’t write the questions on the test. In fact, she says the test makers didn’t ask her what her intent was when writing her poems.

“In one poem I put one word, the word today, in all caps,” Holbrook says. “And the test wants to know if it was to highlight my experience, to stress my expectations to indicate the speaker’s condition – none of which are why I put it in all caps. I put it in all caps like we do to make a word scream on the page, but no one asked. Someone just made up a bunch of questions and kids have to guess.”

Holbrook says she encourages students to think about why an author wrote something the way they did:

“That leads to some of the richest discussion that we have about literature.”

But she’s upset that no one making the STAAR test is including the authors in this discussion.

“It’s when some academic sits behind a computer screen and makes stuff up and puts themselves above us all in saying I know what this means,” Holbrook says.

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.