Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bloopers Nouveau

As is the tradition, I spent a happy week this month scoring the practice "Response to Literature" portion of the 10th-grade Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT). The test itself, and the scoring process, make up quite the quagmire. I'd like to discuss it, but for the sake of space, time, and alienation of readers, will not. I'll just say that we scorers are a congenial bunch who come back year after year. We're a handful of very involved parents and former teachers. I am both.

For some reason, this year the gods blessed me (or maybe not) with piles of honors class papers among the general. Regardless of their writing prowess, however, even the best students make blunders under the pressure of this challenging timed practice test, which permits students only 30 minutes to read a very long story and 40 minutes to write four pages about it. For my own entertainment, I keep a running list of student comments I especially enjoy. I must also add the disclaimer that the students' papers are numbered and anonymous to all but the course teachers, and that we are under oath to pass to another reader any paper whose writer we detect through other means that we might know--such as through handwriting, content, or style. I do not in any way intend to demean any of these students. Truth be told, by now even the students probably don't remember what they wrote. The following are this year's funnies. And, to give the kids their due, in almost every case it's clear what they really meant to say. But as a favorite professor at UCLA used to tell us when one of us bombed on a paper, "Mr./Ms. Fill-in-name-here, I'm afraid once again you have failed to achieve art."

  1. People tend to take a long time to greavie over the lost of a loved one. (I prefer my "greavie" over meatloaf.)
  2. The symbolism intraged me. (Intreging spelling.)
  3. Before, Luis was a self-centered drug dealer. (Ahem; he was a gang leader! Are you writing about the story's sequel, which we did not read?)
  4. Luis is Jorge Cintron who owns a car junkyard. (Interesting. This would make Luis his own father. How 'bout that!)
  5. Luis seems to have an epifiny.
  6. Luis seems very rebelliont. It is his rebelliontness that gets him in trouble. (I am still waiting to go through my rebelliont phase.)
  7. In answer to this question of what were my initial thoughts to this story, my initial thoughts were very hazzy.
  8. No matter how unseemingly unredeemable he was . . .
  9. He change from criminal to civilian. (Wow, we'd better stay away from everybody in the armed forces!)
  10. Human nature is volital to our race. (I have no words.)
  11. The hubcap symolisms the moon.
  12. He was never motavied.
  13. He had a propose in life.
  14. He past away.
  15. My dad pasted away. (Paste, Dad, paste!)
  16. If you catch the moon, you will only be left with is the sun. (That's, like, so totally profound.)
  17. . . . where his mom's funeral was commissioned.
  18. It is human nature to finally crumble for love. (Now I understand why I've been falling apart!)
  19. Luis was malipulative. (Nice word!)
  20. He turns into an awesome person who finally learned to release his inner mess. (Better get out of the way when you see him coming.)
  21. He was amazed at her elegancy.
  22. She symboled Luis' mother.
  23. He finally shows his true emotions and deminar.
  24. The pinical of the story . . .
  25. He was feeling really self riteous.
  26. Myabe he should of just did his full time.
  27. He stood out late for her.
  28. It reminds me of my cuzin.
  29. Holden . . . lets Pheobe go lose her incense. (I almost had to leave at this point. And, sad to say, I did laugh hard right there in a room full of very quiet readers. And it was fun when the second reader got this paper, because she laughed, too. I think it's my favorite. P-H-E-O-B-E. Incense. Still laughing.)
  30. He had never talken to anyone deeply.
  31. Noami the girl that was looking for an especific hubcab. (Sometimes she was Noami, sometimes Namoi, but never Naomi.)
  32. People in general have rocky relationships with their parentals.
  33. When I was just a toddle . . .
  34. He was sad, depressed, lonely, and lonely.
  35. Luis has also had the coming of nowledge. Know he nows . . .
  36. From his rebel juvenile hall days to working at the lumber yard . . . (Again, is this from the sequel? In this story, he works at a junkyard!)
  37. They were like two strangers living under one house. (Just like the Wicked Witch.)
  38. He changed into a better, more considerable person. (It was eating all that pizza.)
  39. At the beginning of the story Luis is miscivous.
  40. I cannot have a relaxed consiounse.
  41. I liked the story because it had a deasant plot line.
And now for the school district. Prior to the scoring, the schools sent us a sheet called "Scoring Guidelines for CAPT Response to Literature." To give them the benefit of the doubt, I can only imagine that they have hired a typist who is 1) not a native speaker of English, 2) one-eyed, and 3) has lost a fingertip in an accident. I asked the chairmen of the English departments about this and they concurred. One of them even graciously accepted my smartass copy, which I had marked up in red.
  1. This does not mean that nay interpretation is acceptable, Rather, it opens the door to multiple interpretations, not a single . . . (yadda yadda comma splices galore and transposed letters and no periods and inexplicable capitals and inexplicable lack oF caPitals)
  2. The scoring will be "focuses" in that scorers will look for . . .
  3. A response may not contain all the characteristics of the core it receives.
  4. Does the student recognize inconsistencies of ambiguities in the text and attempt to deal with them? (Whoa! Inconsitencies of ambiguities? Show me!)
And my favorite: one of the department heads' names is comically misspelled. I asked him if all of this was on purpose--just for a laugh. Unfortunately he said the mistakes were real.

Just to be fair to everyone else, the tragedies hit home as well. For when I recognized that I had some honors papers, I seethed with morbid curiosity about my own kid's paper. Of course it would have been unethical if I had considered scoring it, but I sure as heck wanted to see it. Or so I thought. It only took a few seconds for me to recognize the handwriting, although it was uncharacteristically. And I was truly gobsmacked at the shocking incompetence. No one, and I mean no one among the honors group had done what he had. While the others had waxed eloquent over four whole pages in tiny, cramped handwriting, my kid left the first page blank except for the penciled palimpsest, "This." This what? On the second page he wrote a single paragraph of purple-prose nonsense that barely hinted at his comprehension of the story. (What shocked me even more was his legible handwriting. I had never seen his school writing in anything close to legible form. The fabulous vocabulary did not surprise me, but his willingness to use it in a school paper was--he uses it orally all the time, but not typically in papers. On the other hand, it did not add up to a convincing argument.) On the third page, which entails connecting one's understanding of the story with other texts, media, or personal experience, again, nothing. Nothing from the erstwhile KING of meaningful and interesting connections. Then, on the fourth page, which addresses "the literary merit of the story," he went buckwild crazy and filled the page with lucid observations.

CHOKE. I could not toss that paper back on the "to be scored" pile fast enough! Not only that, but I also felt so bad for the two scorers who would eventually have the misfortune of reading his paper. Worst of all, I couldn't shut my trap when he came home so I asked him if my description of his paper identified it as his paper. He admitted that it was his. And I told him straight up how I would have scored it had I scored it. It turned out that my score was spot-on with the scores he eventually received. (Well, at least one thing went right; the scoring process is as objective as it can be.)

I feel guilty and sorry for the poor kid, because I am afraid it is my fault he sucked on the practice test. He is stuck with a snarky, rampant writer/editor for a mother and a serious, pedantic mathematics professor/research scientist father. No, I'm not being fair to my DH. We're both pedants. Pressure much? No matter where he goes, he's between a rock and a hard place with parental good intentions mixed with high demands. He knows I am firmly on the side of his English teacher and that she and I correspond frequently. He doesn't like her, but I absolutely salute her for being tough on him and putting up with his resistance. I also thank her for going into the trenches every day and not breaking under the obvious weight of what she encounters in student writing. My kid stubbornly fights against my every suggestion, even while stridently begging for help.

No wonder he spends his life devoted to music instead!

Oh. And said kid was recommended for next year's AP English class. Go figure.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And another ad . . .

Thanks to a comment from Nance, whose blog I read regularly and admire, I've remembered another ad that drives me crazy (see preceding post). Nance took me down a notch for not just coming out and saying VAGINA, instead using the jejune, not-even-properly-euphemistic "va-jay-jay." Well played, Nance. But I just wanted to try it for once. So I did, and now I'm over it.

Onward. In thinking about "vagina," I remembered a pregnancy-test ad that rankles me. And not a moment after I remembered it, I heard that very ad as I prepared my morning coffee. It was scary, really, as if Big Brother had detected my thought and plotted vengeance! I am, however, proud to state that I do not know what brand name it promotes (because the main gist of the ad is just too ugly to stick; in fact, it splashes off). The pregnancy test stick is shown against a solid black background, and flies through apparent space like the Starship Enterprise. It even has a shuttle-like separation as the cap disengages. Then an imposing MALE voice states something like, "It's the most state-of-the-art piece of technology you'll ever pee on."

Heaven help us. When I had cats, they used to like to pee on technology (old-timey technology, like LP record albums and phonographs, a VCR, and the sacred portable "word processing" typewriter. They would pee on anything that took my attention away from them--The New Yorker, textbooks, the Sunday Times.) That is, until I had them NEUTERED. That nipped the habit in the bud post-haste. While I'm all for snarkiness and sarcasm and cynicism and cattiness, this ad steps over the line of decency. I don't want a man talking to me about my pregnancy test. Someone who might be a real user is much more credible. Stupid announcer! Spare us, and do not "boldly go where no man has gone before." Oh, and that's a whole other irritation--the famous split infinitive, "to boldly go." Going on a piece of technology. No, thanks to toilet humor!