TAKS-ing Texas test questions

What's the main idea of the essay?
Why not ask the essay's author? Ooops.

Poor Naomi Shihab Nye of Texas, facing five questions about an essay on the 2005 state TAKS exam and she couldn't answer three of the five. Main idea? Gee, that depends. It could be . . . or it could be . . .

image of Naomi NyeNaomi Shihab Nye

It's not as though Naomi is a slow student; not even close. In fact, she's been a finalist for the National Book Award, won the Pushcart Prize for small press literature four times, had three poems included in The Bedford Anthology of World Literature (2003), and is a published novelist, essayist, and poet. Yet three of the questions puzzled her considerably.

   What makes this predicament even more interesting and relevant to the test-mad world in which students are now being incarcerated is that Ms. Nye is the author of that exact essay on the TAKS test.

   Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey happens to be a friend and former neighbor of Ms. Nye and was struck by both the quandary of students trying to take a high-stakes state examination that one of its authors might fail. The column he wrote about the situation, "Author used in TAKS flunks test", can be found here at Casey and Nye on TAKS test.

   As anyone who knows literature can tell you, it's about personal interpretation, what you find of yourself in what the author has written. In many instances, it's like a mirror that reflects back an image depending on who's looking into it. It's not like math or science where there's always but one correct answer. The main idea of an essay? That might depend on your own circumstances or your mindset at the moment, the country you're in or even the mood you're in.

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