When I started working in educational assessment as an associate editor, I didn’t make much money (um, it was $27,000 a year, no bonus, and that was with a master’s degree–clearly I could have benefited from a seminar on salary negotiation), but I was happy to have a job related to words in print. Having majored in literature and gotten a master’s in English, I’d already worked my fill of day jobs, from hostess at Denny’s (which job I quit because of the sexual harassment–that was before Anita Hill, and the harassment I’m talking about wasn’t just someone telling me dirty jokes I didn’t want to hear) to barista at an espresso joint (loved that job) to probation officer (not so much, there was an old boys’ network there, and sexual harassment, too–during handcuff training, my supervisor advised me to go home and practice on my then-husband, much to the amusement of the dude officers, all of whom were twenty years or more older than I was) to massage therapist (loved that one, too, but when I started having problems with my wrists, my doctor told me I had to pick: writing or massage).
My seven-year stint at one of the major test publishing companies took me through the ranks from associate editor to content development manager. By the time I decided to leave corporate life to start my own business, I had gone on to become director for content development at a start-up company. After once spending thirty-two consecutive hours in the office writing a proposal, I knew I needed more freedom and flexibility. I missed my children and I missed having a life that I enjoyed.
Now I’ve been writing in assessment and curriculum for more than twenty years, and freelancing for a dozen of those.
Some of my work involves consulting on state test programs and new product development at publishing companies; some is senior level review, in which I read and edit other writers’ work; at least half of my work is writing passages and questions for reading and writing tests. I write all kinds of ancillary materials, such as test specifications. I’ve written for all of the major test publishing companies and for so many state assessment programs that I can’t list them.
When an editor who liked my writing became the executive editor of National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Extreme Explorer, she invited me to contribute, and I wrote half a dozen articles for the magazines, including a few cover stories. One of those stories, “Seeing Eye to Eye,” was listed in Appendix B of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies & Science as an example of the kind of informational text students should be reading.
I’ve had contracts with Louisiana Department of Education to write practice tests. For seven years, I had a contract with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth-largest district in the country, to produce their Grade 3 Portfolio Assessment. You can find my reading passages online in sample test materials for a variety of states, including Alaska, California, and New York. (The passages I wrote for the California High School Exit Exam don’t have bylines, but you might find them on pp.13, 22, 25, and 40. These aren’t the only passages I wrote for that test, just the ones that appear in released materials.) I’ve written literally–using the word correctly, not using it to mean “figuratively”–hundreds of reading passages and thousands of test questions that have been presented to millions and millions of test-takers.
I’m grateful that my work involves writing. Writing nearly every day, writing in every genre, on all kinds of topics, and writing to rigorous specifications has not only sharpened my skills, but has also trained me to write any time, anywhere. I write at home, at the airport, in coffee houses, and even in the car while waiting for my daughters to finish their cello lessons. No matter how I feel or what my mood, I write. Writing for a living is an effective method for eradicating any sense of romance or preciousness about being a writer.
Writing is fun. I go to the library. I read a lot. If I spend a few hours browsing the Innerwebnetplacething, it’s never a waste of time; everything is raw material. I learn things I would never know otherwise. Sometimes I get to interview people who lead far more adventurous lives, such as a marine biologist who dives with sharks or a photographer who chases wildfires.
Soon I’ll have my book on passage writing ready, and–as if all this isn’t enough, I should shut up already, –I’m working on a book about multiple-choice item writing with the working title of How to Write the Best Multiple-Choice Questions Ever. And when I finish that, I plan to write a book on content editing for assessment. And then. And then. Because I want everyone to have the tools they need to write excellent passages and excellent test questions, because the kids who are fidgeting and biting their nails through standardized tests deserve our best. Don’t they? Why, yes, they do. They deserve more than our best, but we can only give what we’ve got.
Besides writing for educational assessment and curriculum publishing, I’ve published a book of literary short fiction (Bad Girl, Capra Press, 1996), have completed two novels (one for adults, one YA–I’m shopping the YA even as I write; the other needs revision, it was my first novel and it took fifteen years and at least six full rewrites, but I learned a lot and even though that one may never get published, I’m glad I did it–I had to start somewhere) and am at work on a third. Some of my stories have been published in literary journals.
What else? I love to read. I love to write. I love readers and writers. My twin daughters are both great readers and great writers. I’ve got a big scary dog who neither reads nor writes, but I love her anyway. I love my work, I love learning, I love making things better. I’m a do-bee!