Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

[Susan notes: The New York Times invites readers to respond briefly by Thursday for the Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and a rejoinder in the Sunday Review. E-mail: letters@nytimes.com]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

In more than four decades of teaching, including 23 years as a secondary-school principal, I have become increasingly dismayed at the growing influence of standardized tests and the test preparation industry for students as young as those entering preschool to those who are preparing to enter graduate-level programs. So I was heartened by the news last month that most New York City private schools are likely to drop the E.R.B. entrance exam for kindergarten and first grade.

Yet this is but one small step in dismantling a financial behemoth that not only produces unrelieved anxiety for students and their parents, but also interferes with students' independent thinking, deep engagement with ideas in the classroom, and, ultimately, intellectual and moral development. I offer three practical suggestions to restore power to classroom teachers and school leaders rather than the testing industry.

First, I call on colleges and universities to drop the requirement of SAT scores. At a time when economically advantaged students are taking prep courses for the SAT, while students who lack the economic means are without these benefits, our colleges are further promoting the inequities of our society.

Second, our secondary schools must curb their appetite for Advanced Placement courses, which too often fail to prepare students adequately for college-level course work. They also put pressure on students to perform well on the A.P. exams in the spring, leaving them exhausted and lacking a spirit of intellectual curiosity.

Finally, now is the time for all of our schools, from preschool through graduate education, to embrace once again the belief that imagination and creativity are the cornerstones of genuine learning. As E. M. Forster wrote more than a century ago in "Howards End," in addressing the shortcomings of British universities: "Oh yes, you have learned men who collect ... facts, and facts, and empires of facts. But which of them will rekindle the light within?"

The writer is the director of studies at Gill St. Bernard's School.

Peter Schmidt

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.