The first question asked, “What is this story mostly about?” and offered four choices: A) what tigers like to eat B) how tigers tear bark off logs C) how two tigers get along D) what tigers like to do An intense literary debate followed the reading aloud of the story and this first question. In fact, we never got beyond it. One of our party felt that B, “how tigers tear bark off logs,” best summed up the action-oriented nature of the story, while another thought that C, “how two tigers get along,” best highlighted the interaction between the two animals. The third felt that the story was mostly about sibling relations, and fretted that there was no E) none of the above. And, predictably, the fourth felt that all the possible answers had merit: F), or all of the above. The truth is, even such a banal story cannot be reduced to a single theme, nor should it be. By asking young students to spend time taking tests like this we are doing them a double disservice: first, by inflicting on them such mediocre literature, and second, by training them to read not for pleasure but to discover a predetermined answer to a (let’s not mince words) stupid question.Clearly, the correct answer to the question is C) how two tigers get along – but I know this only because I am very familiar with the ways that standardized tests work. The truth is that most state standardized tests are better at testing students’ abilities to take tests than they are at testing student’s true academic strengths and weaknesses. And when it comes to teaching reading, standardized tests fail utterly. Though you may not think of it in these terms, reading is an art. There are readers who are literate (those who can read and understand the words on a page) and there are readers who are artists (those who can read and understand what is between the lines). A literate reader gains little pleasure from books; to a literate reader, a book is nothing more than a vehicle for information, certainly not a great source of pleasure or intellectual challenge. An artistic reader, on the other hand, devours books for pleasure; to an artistic reader, a book can be re-read a dozen times and still reveal new ideas with every reading. By introducing children to reading through the lens of ubiquitous standardized tests, we are killing the art of reading. Students are taught to read strictly for content – find the main idea, identify the main character, state the author’s purpose. In this way, reading becomes a rote chore when it should be a vehicle for discovery and interpretation. Instead, students should be taught to enjoy literature, to analyze its various meanings and influences, and to appreciate the nuances of the written world. The higher level thinking skills involved in artistic reading are invaluable in higher education and in the adult world, yet we stifle these more creative and elusive skills in favor of content-based assessments which strangle creativity and individual thought. Since we cannot unilaterally limit the use of standardized tests, we must instead endeavor to provide students with both literate and artistic reading skills. Students must learn to take tests because, for good or ill, standardized tests are a fact of life. But students must also learn to enjoy reading and to read with an eye for analysis and interpretation, for that is how creative thinkers are made. To learn how to help your child become a better test taker, read our article on this important skill-set.