Teaching Profession

New Novel Takes Pokes at Standardized Testing

By Sean Cavanagh — September 12, 2006 1 min read

“The nation’s report card” is the unofficial title of the National Assessment of Educational Progress—that sober, emminently respectable test known to educators around the country.

America’s Report Card, on the other hand, is a newly published novel that offers a “satiric, paranoid look” at the world of standardized tests, according to one of several favorable reviews. Author John McNally’s work of fiction, released this summer by Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster, makes playful use of NAEP’s title and was inspired partly by the assessment itself, the author said in an interview. The novel, according to reviews, tells the parallel stories of Charlie Wolf, who takes an unappealing job as a test scorer of a nationwide, standardized exam, and Jainey O’Sullivan, a Chicago-area teenager coping with various troubles, including the death of her teacher under mysterious circumstances. Eventually, their lives intersect in a dark and comic story described as heavy on political and social satire that takes jabs at the standardized-testing industry. Mr. McNally, who has published a number of other well-received fictional works, freely admitted that his new book was culled in part from his unhappy experience working as an hourly test-scorer of NAEP exams in the 1990s.

“I felt like I was in a Kafka novel most of the time,” Mr. McNally recalled of that labor.

Charles E. Smith, the executive director of the National Assessment Government Board, which sets policy for NAEP, said a co-worker only recently gave him a copy. He said he’d wait to offer an opinion on its literary merits.

“I haven’t even read any reviews,” Mr. Smith said. “I’ll reserve judgment.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2006 edition of Education Week

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