Saturday, September 20, 2008

TEST by William Sleator

What if all learning was directed toward one test? What if your future was determined by that one test? Hmmmm.... With the current system believing in the theory of NCLB (No Child Left Behind), isn't that the direction being pushed on education today? When that ludicrous theory begins appearing in current YA fiction, it seems that perhaps the "experts" should take some notice.

William Sleator, popular YA fiction author, uses NCLB and AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) as the central theme of his new novel TEST. Thought by some critics to be simplistic and wrapped up with a too tidy conclusion, I found still found it close enough to the reality of classrooms today to raise my blood pressure a notch or two. It also gave a sense of real purpose to that Publisher's Note: " This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental." Any teacher in an Amercian classroom today will recognize a frightening numbers of parallels between this story and what they are actually living in their own classroom.

According to TEST, the country is made up of two worlds. There is a world of the powerful people. They have money and the ability to live an easy life with beautiful homes and unlimited material goods, including helicopters for transportation which allow them to avoid endless traffic problems and prolonged exposure to toxic pollution. While the other world must face limited money and supplies, long and unpleasant commutes to work and school, and dangerous living conditions. Success in the world of the "haves" is guaranteed, while success in the world of the "have nots" depends on the ability to pass the XCAS test which is the only path to college and a future with any sort of promise. Failure to pass the test results in expulsion from school and a direct path to whatever meaningless, low paying job that will hopefully be available.

Ann finds herself struggling with school which consists of endless preparation for the XCAS. She is a senior and her test results this year will determine the rest of her life. She is frustrated with boring classroom material and disgruntled teachers whose only motivation is creating good student test scores to secure their own jobs. Ann knows that her father works for the wealthy man responsible for publishing the hated test, and that that man has direct connections to the president who believes NCLB is the best way to educate the masses.

When Ann meets Lep, an immigrant from Thailand and a fellow student, she learns even more about the testing system and the corruptness of that system. With knowledge comes danger, and Ann soon feels her life is being threatened as a result of the powers behind the XCAS.

Readers of TEST are taken into both worlds - the powerful and the underprivileged. The similarities to today's current educational practices are startling. Hopefully, this is not the direction our educational system wants maintain. NCLB is a system in need of change. Books like TEST might bring that need to the attention of the right people.

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