[Susan notes: The New York Times publishes a fine set of letters.]
Published in New York Times
Your June 18 editorial about test-tampering, That Cheats the Kids, misses the point about high-stakes testing --- it inevitably distorts the results.
Testing is fine as long as it has no high-stakes results; test scores along
with other information help us know what reforms are working, as the
editorial points out. But once these tests are linked to high-stakes
consequences, like teacher pay, tenure or the closing of schools, the
results are no longer dependable for diagnostic purposes, either for schools
or individual students.
This phenomenon has more recently been borne out by the rapid state test
score inflation that has occurred throughout the nation since No Child Left
Behind was instituted, with the results on state exams increasingly
diverging from the more reliable results of the no-stakes national exams,
the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The children who are harmed the most are those that your editorial rightly
points out need the most help --- poor and minority children, who are being
cheated of a quality education, because their schools have not improved
significantly despite the higher test scores that they may receive.
Executive Director, Class Size Matters
-- To the Editor: Re Pressed to Show Progress,Educators Tamper With Test Scores ("Cheat Sheet" series, front page, June 11): Although the intense pressures on teachers don't justify cheating, they certainly make it understandable. What would you do if your professional life and livelihood depended on students' test scores, and the little demons wouldn't come to school regularly, do their homework or even pay attention in class? The only moral course of action left in these twisted times of test scores as king is nonviolent resistance on a grand scale: the faculties of entire schools and districts should teach what is best for their students and not waste time on test prep; refuse merit pay; let parents know that tests are not the true measure of their children's knowledge; and stand together against all unfair dismissals of their colleagues.
Joanne Yatvin Portland, Ore.
The writer is a former public school teacher, principal and district superintendent who now teaches at the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University.
- - To the Editor: I'm confident that any school I attended (in the 1960s) would have passed the bar set for standardized achievement tests. But many of those teachers were awful. Our neighborhood Facebook page describes one as "a sadist" and another was happy only if she made someone cry. Forty years later, we're still scarred. They instilled fear, not confidence and a love of learning. According to No Child Left Behind, they would have been the masters of the profession. That is scary.
Phyllis Brust Flossmoor, Ill.
To the Editor: It is perhaps true that no form of academic cheating "may be as startling as educators tampering with children's standardized tests," since a much more serious form of academic cheating that is being perpetrated in our schools almost daily does not seem to startle anyone. Schools obeying the governmental mandates that their students do well in their standardized tests regularly "cheat" our children out of their education because the schools' staff members see to it that much class time is spent on test preparation drills and teaching the basic reading and mathematics skills that make up most of these tests, while they marginalize or eliminate altogether other components of the rich and varied prescribed curriculums. One might ask: What does it profit our students if they obtain high reading and mathematics scores but never gain the pleasures of learning?
Brooklyn, June 13, 2010
The writer is a former English teacher and middle school assistant principal, and a former vice president of the New York City Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.
-- To the Editor: Your article draws much-needed attention to the unintended consequences of policies that seek to promote better performance and greater accountability. As more and more educational decisions are made in connection with student performance on standardized tests --- who gets tenure, who earns bonuses, who's laid off first --- incidents of cheating will balloon. This phenomenon is so well known in academia that it even has its own name: Campbell's Law. In a memorable 1976 paper, Donald T. Campbell explained that "the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." This should give Congress pause as it ponders the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, which has at its heart standardized testing.
Justin Snider New York
The writer teaches undergraduate writing at Columbia University.