Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ann Cameron's Literature

A couple of days ago, Yetta Goodman circulated a note about Ann Cameron's response to the callous manner in which a passage from one of her books was used in a Illinois reading test:

Thought you would find this note (by Ann Cameron, author of many children's books, including "More Stories Julian Tells") of interest, posted on Amazon by Ann Cameron herself:

"An excerpt from this book, about African-American characters, was used January 31, 2000, in a state-wide Illinois third-grade reading standards test. 70,000 Illinois children got this test excerpt, in which the testers reillustrated the story without permission and changed the characters to Causcasians. I wrote the book with great care, and with the hope that many children will identify with my characters who are courageous and successful and well-liked. Over 200,000 copies of the book have been sold. I know from my fan mail that many children of all races do identify with the characters. It must have been painful for many of them to see their heroes turned white on a test--and for others who know the book, it must have been distracting at the least. One of the testers' three new illustrations shows the brothers in the story playing baseball. Eight books about the characters have been published to date (there will be a new one next year)--and in none of them do the characters play baseball. The testers developed their test questions based on a 3-page excerpt from the book; they had never even seen a copy of the entire book (thus the error in race), much less read it. It's quite possible that a child who had read the book would give different answers to the test questions based on his knowledge, and that the testers, in their ignorance, would mark it wrong. In many states, statewide tests are very serious these days--children are stigmatized for low scores, and teachers lose their jobs. But it appears that the tests are hastily and thoughtlessly constructed and penalize good readers. Parents and all of us concerned with education need to know what kind of tests children are being subjected to. "-

In a response to Yetta's note, Gloria Pipkin noted the following:

"I corresponded with Ann Cameron when this happened, and she started a crusade to persuade authors not to allow their work to be used on standardized tests. Her story inspired Susan Ohanian to survey released state tests all over the country to see which authors were selling their souls to the testing machine. Susan has a PowerPoint presentation on this.

This is only tangentially related, but when the poet Naomi Shihab Nye visited a class in Texas, one of the students told her that they had read some of her work on the TAKS. Nye tracked down the test and disagreed with the "right answer" on two of the five questions covering her material."