I read an article in the Washington Post about an eighth-grader who designed a clever parody of a typical New York Reading Test exercise.
Browsing the readers’ comments that followed the article, I was amazed and saddened to see several that expressed doubt that the parody could be the work of a 13-year-old. They were convinced that an adult had to have done it.
These comments reflect the generally low standards held for public education in the United States. Judging by some of the shoddy work turned in by eighth graders, I can understand the attitude if that is all one ever sees. However, a twelve- or thirteen-year old of average intelligence who has mastered spoken and written English to the seventh or eighth grade level ought to be capable of producing a written product patterned on a pre-existing model.
American children of earlier generations were lucky to acquire as much as an eighth grade education. Until early 20th century reforms, many elementary schools were staffed by teachers whose formal education had stopped with eighth grade graduation.
My own father, and many of his contemporaries, never had the opportunity to fit more than eight years of formal education into their rural upbringings; nevertheless, unlike many a college graduate of my acquaintance, my father actually enjoyed reading books in the evening.
Even today, millions of American children will drop out of school with no more than “an eighth grade education.” I wonder how much facility with language they will take into their adult pursuits.
The terrifically difficult 1895 Eighth Grade Exam currently circulating on the web is a fraud, but I have an eighth grade reader from 1919 that yields an interesting comparison with modern eighth grade testing materials.
Using a readability index calculator (Flesch-Kincaid), I compared a short passage from an online 8th grade sample reading test with the first paragraph of an extract in the 1919 reader.
The modern 8th grade test passage received a score of 7th grade.
The 1919 passage received a score of 12th grade.