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[Susan notes: Take a look at the NPR Interview with Michelle Rhea, where I also posted this fine letter which packs a real punch. I'm happy to see that the Washington Post published it.

NOTE: Undernews, the e-mail version of The Progressive Review, by longtime, astute commentator on D.C. politics Sam Smith picked up this letter and sent it out to his subscribers.]

Published in Washington Post

To the editor

Bill Turque provides some valuable insights into the manipulation of

student test scores for political advantage [Testing Tactics Helped

Fuel D.C. School Gains,” July 17] .

Removing low scorers from the testing pool is an effortless way to

raise average scores and create the illusion of progress for D.C.

schools. But it prevents any fair comparison with test results from

prior years.

Intensive teaching to the test, especially for students on the cusp

of “proficiency,” is even more pernicious. It destroys the

validity of academic assessments, which are designed to sample a broad

range of skills and knowledge. Narrowing instruction to items expected

to be on the test is like holding a match under the thermostat. It

produces misleading results, not to mention an impoverished


Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee have taken credit for what they call

"steady gains" by students. But pumping up test scores by

artificial means tells us nothing about whether children are learning.

It's too bad the Post relies on a euphemism – “improved

statistical housekeeping” – to characterize these deceptive

tactics. A more accurate description would be "gaming the system."

James Crawford is President, Institute for Language and Education Policy.

James Crawford

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