In search of what she said: Long ago and far away, we administered the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to a succession of fifth grade classes right here in Baltimore, Maryland, in a set of public schools not far from our current sprawling campus.
It seems that the Iowa Tests are now called the Iowa Assessments. Here's an outdated overview from the leading authority on the subject:
The Iowa Assessments (previously the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and originally Iowa Every Pupil Test of Basic Skills) also known informally as the Iowa Tests or colloquially as ITBS tests, are standardized tests provided as a service to schools by the College of Education of the University of Iowa. Developers Everett Franklin Lindquist, Harry Greene, Ernest Horn, Maude McBroom, and Herbert Spitzer first designed and administered the tests in 1935 as a tool for improving student instruction. The tests are administered to students in kindergarten through eighth grade as part of the Iowa Statewide Testing Programs, a division of the Iowa Testing Programs (ITP). Over decades, participation expanded and currently nearly all school districts in Iowa participate annually in the program, as do many other school districts across the United States.If memory serves, it was a nice quiet day for the classroom teacher as the children scratched away on their Iowa Tests!
Within a few years, we learned that extensive cheating could occur, and was occurring, within such testing programs. By the early 1980s, we'd even been told, by the editor in chief of one such battery, that teachers and principals would sometimes erase wrong answers and insert correct answers on the students' answer sheets after the testing was done!
We'd even been told that, for an extra fee, test publishers would scan a school district's answer sheets for highly suspicious, or statistically impossible, erasure patterns. We were told these things in the early 1980s. The mainstream press corps learned about this unfortunate syndrome maybe thirty years later—and it was USA Today which largely blew the whistle, not the somnolent New York Times and Washington Post.
Our upper-end press corps managed to sleep through decades of fraudulent activity. As such, a thought occasionally comes to mind:
Maybe someone should devise a test battery called the Mainstream Upper-End Modern Journalists Tests of Basic Skills!
If someone is working on such a project, we'll recommend inclusion of a sub-test on basic paraphrasing skills. Paraphrase is a basic tool of the modern journalist. That said, the practice doesn't always turn out especially well.
How bad can paraphrase get? Coverage of the disastrous 2000 presidential campaign was built around a mainstream press corps campaign of "creative paraphrase" directed against one of the two major party nominees!
Nor are things always better today. Consider an attempt at paraphrase which appeared in Saturday morning's Washington Post.
The attempt appeared in an op-ed column by Christine Emba, whose work we've praised in the past. Emba paraphrased Kamala Harris—but in our view, the paraphrase didn't turn out all that well.
Below, with headline included, you see the way Emba's column began. Like many others, Emba wasn't real high on Attorney General Barr's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
EMBA (5/4/19): William Barr’s master class in word-splittingLike many other observers, Emba didn't think much of Barr's performance. But as she listed the ways he failed, she was soon offering this:
On Wednesday, the Hon. William P. Barr reminded us why lawyers are one of the United States' least-trusted professions. And on Thursday, he made it clear whose lawyer he really was.
The attorney general's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a performance to be remembered, a veritable buffet of legal know-it-all and feigned expressions of surprise. Ostensibly, Barr was there to answer questions about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But after a thrilling opening act by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) (the f-bomb, on live TV!), Barr proceeded to deliver a master class in prevarication and provocation, twisting the questions put to him so as to give the least amount of information while producing the maximal amount of irritation.
EMBA: There was faux ignorance [on Barr's part]. "Could you repeat that question?" pleaded Barr to Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who had asked whether the White House ever suggested that he open an investigation into anyone, which would be a clear abuse of power. "I'm trying to grapple with the word 'suggest,'" as though he was hearing the word for the first time.Emba had already offered an incoherent account of Barr's alleged "mansplaining." Now she said that he'd also displayed "faux ignorance"—and she paraphrased Harris thusly:
[Harris] asked whether the White House ever suggested that Barr open an investigation into anyone.That's a paraphrase of Harris' question. After offering this paraphrase, Emba quoted part of Barr's response, then offered an unflattering review of what he'd so faux-ly said.
Unless a male witness is now required to agree with anything a female senator says, Emba's passage on Barr's "mansplaining" made no obvious sense. That said, her paraphrase of Harris' question was an example of a phenomenon we're inclined to call by another rough name:
Basic Skill Levels DownFuture Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM), a trademarked yet disconsolate group which communicates from the aftermath of the global conflagration known to them as Mister Trump's Quite Explicit War, have suggested to us that Emba's column should be seen within the anthropological context.
"Our species was never built for this," these relentlessly glum future scholars have said, gloomily linking to the unflattering portrait of Homo sapiens painted by Professor Harari. "The failures of the pre-war press should always be seen as an unfortunate function of basic 'human' wiring."
Harari has said that our war-inclined species runs on "gossip" and "fiction," with a healthy dose of intolerance thrown in. Could Emba's paraphrase of Harris' question possibly be shoehorned into this scholarly framework?
We'll examine such questions all week long. What exactly is the state of the press corps' basic skills?
Tomorrow: Maddow and Harris discuss that very same question!