Recently, the state of Texas has made great strides in reducing the test length and the overall number of state assessments. I applaud these moves. Any step away from standardized testing is generally a good idea. However, I also fear a by-product of this decision.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) as a requirement of new laws enacted after the last legislative session reduced the length of the 4th and 7th grade writing assessments so they could be completed in one day. Yes, nine year olds were previously expected to stay focused for two days, in rigid rows, writing to prompts for an audience they would never meet.
TEA made the decision to reduce the assessment to a single writing piece: an expository piece. The personal narrative essay is no longer in any Texas state assessment. The state standards (TEKS) still fully support writing personal narratives; however, the gravity of this decision resides in those who place a higher value on the state assessment. I know there are instances where the test has become the focus rather than robust instruction in all areas of the TEKS. I realize not all TEKS are created equal, but TEKS do not gain their importance from any assessment. That comes from their influence in growing our students as readers, writers, and individuals.
The narrative structure is critical to building strong readers and writers. In Minds Made for Stories, Thomas Newkirk shares what he considers “absurdly simple rules for reading and writing: Read as if it’s a story. Write as if it’s a story” (43). For this advice to work we have first instruct students how to write stories. As an educator that works closely with secondary students, I ask/beg those educators that get to meet our students before me to not trivialize the writing standards that support the personal narrative and narrative writing in general.
Write as if it’s a story. -Thomas Newkirk
Applaud Texas for decreasing the length of state assessments, but do not foolishly assume their decision indicates a hierarchy of writing genres. Good writers understand and use them all interchangeably. I am starting a series of posts about the power of narrative. Each post will look at a new reason teachers should not abandon the narrative mode of writing, and perhaps even grasp it a bit more tightly than before.
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