Celebrated Spacemen Make Startling Trek Into the ‘Test Zone’

Alicia A. Reynolds teaches English at Oxnard High School

“Kirk to Enterprise! Come in!’

“I believe you will find our communicators inoperable, Captain. According to my tri-corder readings during the beam out to Calpha-Five, we were caught in an ion storm. It appears we are not at the designated coordinates.”

“That, you green-blooded Vulcan, is obvious! Just where in Hades are we?”

“I believe, good Doctor, if my memory of this period serves me correctly, we are standing in a high school classroom in a state called California. Fascinating!”


“Good God, what could be fascinating about watching a bunch of high school kids filling in bubbles while we’re separated from our ship by hundreds of light years?”

“That is precisely what is fascinating. It appears we have been transported into a 20th-century alter-state of reality Terran anthropologists call the ‘Test Zone.’ ”

“The Test Zone? I don’t recall studying that in my Earth history course at Starfleet Academy. Are we in any danger, Spock?”

“No, Captain. While this period in Earth’s history was hallmarked by violent wars, deadly epidemics, environmental devastation and civil unrest, the Test Zone was remarkable in its irrelevancy.”


“Why don’t you stop talkin’ all this nonsense and get us out of here!”

“Dr. McCoy, apparently your unfocused human mind has failed to recognize that as I have been informing you of your Earth’s history, I have also been recalibrating our tri-corders to make contact with the ship.”

“Excellent, Spock. Please, continue with our history lesson.”

“Apparently, most of Earth’s educational institutions produced reams of evaluation tests that reflected how well a student performed during a certain designated time known as ‘testing.’ This testing had little relevancy to actual classroom instruction and was heavily biased toward visual learners.”


“Visual learners?”

“He means, Jim, those who learn best by seeing the material presented rather than by hearing it or having a hands-on experience. You mean to tell me, Spock, this Test Zone only measured learning via one learning modality?”

“Precisely, Doctor!”

“Why, you can’t evaluate real learning by such a narrow means. That’s illogical!”


“Yes, Doctor. However, your species has a penchant for such things.”

“As I recall, Earth experienced a tremendous labor shift heading into the 21st century in which workers were called to be multiskilled, drawing upon all their intellectual and sensory perceptions to fulfill their tasks. High-tech laborers were in short supply during this time. Could this Test Zone philosophy have been a contributing factor?”

“There are scholars who would agree with you, Captain. Tremendous amounts of time, energy and money went into developing, implementing and evaluating these Criterion Based Reference Tests.”



“Speak simple English, you pointy-eared devil!”

“Multiple-choice tests, Bones.”

“But, Jim, those tests tell more about the test givers than the test takers. And what was the logic of interrupting their regular school day and takin’ them away from their regular teacher? Don’t they want to measure actual classroom learning?”

“That was the claim, Doctor. However we know now that such methods did little to reflect actual learning or promote better academic acquisition.”


“Then why did they do it?”

“Why indeed, Captain? Some scholars have posited that the Test Zone was the result of overpaid state and federal bureaucrats who busied themselves creating more and more tests with which they relentlessly inundated local school districts while threatening to withhold funding if each district did not comply with their ever-changing criteria.”

“Well surely, these kids were prepared for these tests with classes designed to familiarize them with its framework.”

“No, Captain, they were not.”


“What? That’s crazy! Who expects to do well on a test they haven’t studied for?”

“No one, Doctor. Outside of the school environment, people then as now study the actual material and framework of the test they are about to take. A good example for this era would have been a driver’s license test for which there were booklets and sample test available; or, job certification tests in which those wishing to receive that certificate would often attend preparatory seminars.”

“Why weren’t these poor kids coached for this test if it is goin’ to be used to label them?”

“The reasoning went that the test results should be an objective evaluation of classroom learning.”


“There ain’t any such thing as an ‘objective evaluation,’ because there is always someone’s agenda attached to the outcome.”

“That, of course, is common sense, Doctor. However, as I have said before, humans are seldom logical.”

“Not so, Mr. Spock. Just think of all those bureaucrats.”

“I fail to see your point, Captain.”


“Well, they need a job too. And what could be a better task than annually creating reams and reams of irrelevancy?”

“Aren’t you done with those calibrations yet? This conversation is makin’ me sick.”

“I believe you’ll now find your communicator capable of transmitting through the time-space continuum, and if you send Mr. Scott these coordinates, he’ll be able to transport us to our own time zone.”

“Too bad the Prime Directive prohibits us from rescuing these poor kids from the Test Zone.”


“In time, Captain, humanity will find better ways to serve the needs of its young people.”

“Yes, Spock, but until then, what? Three to beam up, Mr. Scott.”