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Kirby: Setting a new standard in standardized testing

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Apr 27 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Apr 28 2014 07:06 am

That’s me at Garfield Elementary School about the time standardized testing suggested that I might be mentally retarded. The term is no longer in vogue but it was a legitimate medical diagnosis in 1963.

My condition was arrived at because of awful grades, poor test scores and abysmal behavior. Small wonder. Do I look like I could pay attention?

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A.) Yes

B.) No

C.) Maybe

D.) Electric light

E.) Sacagawea

During standardized testing for advancement to the next grade, my intelligence was found to be on par with that of a muskrat. It might explain why I sometimes climbed out a window in the middle of class.

My parents and I were invited to an ominous meeting. A specialist informed them that something might need to be done about me. Perhaps a more remedial school or possibly even temporary confinement.

Specialist: "Bobby is just not keeping up with kids his age."


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My father: "Are those kids sociopaths, too?"

The specialist offered my miserable test scores as proof of a possible mental handicap. In my defense, the old man countered with better proof that I was actually just an easily distracted criminal.

"If he’s so slow how is it that he reads six books a week, drives my car unless I hide the keys and last month used his mother’s Lady Remington to shave the word "[deleted]" into the side of a neighbor’s horse?"

I sat and listened. What was the big deal about tests? I was smart enough to find my way home after school. I could make a grilled-cheese sandwich. I knew how to change the television channel.

Really, who cared if Ponce de Leon discovered Florida? How much difference did it make that John had a dollar and his sister only 50 cents? Did a noun really matter in the grand scheme of things?

It occurred to me that this reasoning made me the smartest person in the room. Apparently not because the specialist and my parents agreed that I would retake the tests.

It was even worse this time, just Mrs. Henry and me with a ticking clock and a pencil. I was in hell with the bride of Satan while the rest of the kids were out playing.

Question No. 1: "What did brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright invent?"

A.) Automobile

B.) Bicycle

C.) Airplane

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