The stage is dark at first. Three bright ‘interrogation-like’ over lights come over each of the of the three key stage positions: FRONT STAGE LEFT, FRONT STAGE RIGHT, and STAGE CENTER
Positioned at FRONT STAGE LEFT is JIN, an early-twenties Korean male. At first he appears confident and not at all self-conscious about his English, though it’s not perfect. He’s wearing typical American college student clothes: jeans and hoodie. He has a backpack filled with folders, papers and books, plus his computer. When he speaks he sometimes pauses, trying to find the right word.
At FRONT STAGE RIGHT is 40ish writing TEACHER. Can be male or female, in either case, stereotypical clothes of a university composition teacher: Glasses for either. Male: Casual slacks (even jeans) but with a dress shirt and tie and brown leather dress shoes. For female, casual but professional, long skirt and dress blouse, with a jacket. Can verge from nerdy to classy in either case.
At CENTER STAGE sits the COMMITTEE: Three people of any gender, in conservative black suits, sitting behind a long table with neatly stacked folders filled with papers, including a spiral bound ‘report’ titled Ready or Not in front of each that they may lift and show for emphasis, though they remain seated and scarily calm, passionless, during the conversation.
During the play, the teacher is the only one who really responds to the others. Jin may listen to questions from the teacher, but never seems to really be paying attention. The committee members ignore the teacher completely, and never look at Jin, even if they respond to something he says. Jin never even seems aware of the committee. The whole ‘dialogue’ should sound fragmented and disjointed.
COM 1: The committee helps prepare all young people for post-secondary education, work, and citizenship.
COM 2: More than 60 percent of employers question whether a typical student has learned even the basics.
COM 3: The committee is a bipartisan, non-profit organization that helps states raise academic standards, improve assessments, and strengthens accountability.
TEACHER: Who decides the accountability?
JIN: My major is biology so I want to get a degree in USA and get into med school.
COM 2: Employers cannot employ people who cannot articulate clearly.
TEACHER: I can’t guarantee he will speak perfectly when he gets out of my class. But he’ll be better. And he’ll have done some thinking. That’s got to be the most important thing, right?
COM 3: Regardless of a student’s major, the ability to formulate and analyze arguments, both orally and in writing, is absolutely essential to academic success.
TEACHER: Ok, that’s thinking. So we agree on some things. But creative thinking is valuable too, right?
COM 1: We can develop these skills at the postsecondary level, but students need to get a solid foundation in these basics when they are in high school, or they will fall behind quickly in college.
JIN: High school, it’s kind of different from USA. We don’t focus on writing that much. That’s kind of bad for me. I don’t even write in Korean that much, then I have to write in English.
COM 1: The diploma has lost its value because what it takes to earn one is disconnected from what it takes for graduates to compete successfully beyond high school.
JIN: I didn’t have to write essays in high school. In college, some reports, some papers, but I didn’t take any comp classes. I think they have them but it wasn’t required.
COM 2: Students earn grades that cannot be compared from school to school and often are based as much on effort as on the actual mastery of academic content.
TEACHER: Why is that a bad thing? Who ever masters anything?
COM 3: Employers cannot employ people who do not have the ability to read effectively.
JIN: Reading? I feel comfortable. There are....it depends on the subject. I like science so if I read science things, if it’s not really difficult. I’m comfortable. But things like psychology, social science, I don’t like, I’m not...interested...so it’s really hard to read.
COM 1: Working to increase the number of students who are proficient without ensuring that they also are prepared for the future will undermine not only the intent of NCLB, but also support for the education system itself.
TEACHER: Jin, do you read for fun?
JIN: I read comic books, doesn’t matter, English or Korean. But English and Korean comics are different. I understand better in Korean than in English, so it seems easier.
COM 2: Practice in providing evidence from literary works to support an interpretation fosters the skill of reading any text slowly and teaches students to think, speak, and write logically—a priority skill identified by employers and postsecondary faculty.
TEACHER: Only logically?
COM 1: Employers cannot employ people who do not have the ability to write effectively.
TEACHER: Ok, I guess I agree with that....
COM 2: Students should be able to organize ideas in writing with a thesis statement in the introduction, well-constructed paragraphs, a conclusion and transition sentences that connect paragraphs into a coherent whole.
COM 3: Students should be able to write an academic essay. For example: A summary, an explanation, a description, a literary analysis essay.
COM 1: These essays should develop a thesis, create an organizing structure appropriate to purpose, audience and context.
COM 2: They should includes relevant information and exclude extraneous information.
COM 3: They should make valid inferences.
COM 1: They should support judgments with relevant and substantial evidence and well-chosen details.
COM 2: And provide a coherent conclusion.
JIN: Writing is painful. Firstover, I don’t know what to write. I have no experience to write. So and secondly, I haven’t write that much in my high school. I haven’t written at lot in Korean. And third one is, I think that’s a language barrier. I know how to say it in Korean but I don’t know how to say it in English.
TEACHER: We can work on that. The more writing you do, the better you get. I mean, you write in other genres outside of class, right?
JIN: I don’t write outside of college at all. Text messaging, yeah, that kind of thing. Email. I didn’t think that was writing, because writing, this word, is...something sophisticated. It’s simple. And I think there’s a verb, like when you text message, it’s a verb. Writing is...when you email you say emailed him, when you use text message, I say I text messaged him. I just think of that right now. It’s like a conversation, right? The reason why we text message is to communicate....No, writing it communication too...but...I don’t know. I don’t really like text-messaging.
COM 2: High-growth, highly skilled jobs demand that employees can communicate essential information effectively via email.
TEACHER: What was your favorite writing experience?
JIN: My favorite writing experiences?
Jin thinks. The committee members check their watches.
JIN: When I was uh.....I think that’s the question I have to think a lot. Maybe two years ago I attended conversation group and there was a TEOFL class and then I practice writing in that class and I wrote about comparing TOEFL and the U of M, they made this test so if you get this and get above a certain score, you don’t have to take the TEOFL, so I wrote about this...topic, and then I think I wrote well, so this teacher who taught was going to use my essay to let people know that there is a supplement for TEOFL.
COM 1: These skills are very difficult to assess on a paper-and-pencil test.
COM 2: Exit exams are necessary parts of the system.
TEACHER: But you just said—
COM 3: Exams ensure that students meet a least a floor of performance, and they can provide more credible and compelling evidence that students have met the standards.
TEACHER: But he just described a complicated writing process. How do you assess something like that with an exam?
JIN: I’m not a writer. But, I could be a writer. If I, like I said, I have a three reasons I won’t like writing: language barrier, and like that. If I fix them, and experience a lot, then I could be a good writer.
TEACHER: Do you consider yourself a writer in Korean?
JIN: In Korean? No, I don’t think so. I mean I could be in both if I fixed those. It’s kind of awkward, but my strength in writing is creative. I mean, it’s kind of, strange...but when I get a prompt, like for an essay, I think differently, like maybe that’s a language barrier, or I think differently.
TEACHER: That’s fine! That’s good!
COM 1: Standards and exams reflect a consensus among experts as to what would be desirable for young people to learn.
COM 2: They require that course content reflect the knowledge and skills required for success in college and work.
COM 3: Unless all students are regularly exposed to a challenging curriculum, they will forever be playing catch-up.
TEACHER: We all are catching up. That’s never going to change.
JIN: When I write, I go, I just get off the track.
Note: All committee comments are taken from Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts, by the American Diploma Project.