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[Susan notes: A number of concerned citizens respond to a newspaper editorial calling for California to stop allowing parents to opt their children out of the state tests.]

Published in Sacramento Bee

To the editor

Re "Aim high, California," editorial, March 31: The Bee ignored the total failure of No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) to address the realities of our public schools.

The organizational structure of our public schools is an industrial assembly from the early 1900s, and our students are treated like standardized products who are largely on their own to succeed or fail. Woe unto any students who do not conform to the rigid operations of the assembly line as they are pushed from class to class and grade level to grade level.

Our K-12 school system is so organizationally outmoded that despite the dedicated efforts of our teachers and principals, it simply cannot prepare all of our students to fulfill their adult roles and responsibilities. The fundamental issue is not just high standards for all student groups; rather we must completely transform our K-12 schools into smaller learning communities that can provide customized, individualized teaching and learning.

We can continue to pretend that the NCLB will move our schools toward excellence, but until we change the totally antiquated way our schools are organized, we will continue to betray many of our children and their productive futures in our society and economy.

- Alec I. Ostrom, Auburn

Re "Opting out of tests," editorial, March 22: The Bee writes that California has 50,000 students whose parents have signed a waiver so that students can "opt out" of taking basic reading and math tests (the Star 9 tests) and that this should no longer be an option because we need 95 percent participation or lose federal funding.

The repercussions of Star 9 testing are forcing teachers to teach to the test and are sucking the life out of our children and the teachers. As a result, we are fostering replaceable economic units rather than caring, well-rounded human beings. Most teachers and parents would like to see this bad idea disappear.

If we work together and listen to each other, we will choose to opt out of these tests all together, replacing them with a more humane solution.

- Joe Tassinari, Lotus

The suggestion that schools discourage low-performing students from taking tests in order to make district scores look better is inaccurate and unfair.

Districts also lose when parents opt their children out of state tests; zeroes are zeroes when the averages are calculated whether the absent student is gifted or struggling.

Like it or not, California parents have the right to excuse their children from testing, whether it's because they've agreed that their special education student shouldn't participate or that their gifted student is overwhelmed by an ulcer-inducing culture of assessment.

The consistently high-performing Mill Valley Middle School failed to meet NCLB's adequate yearly progress because 113 of 126 students with disabilities took the math test - seven students short of NCLB's arbitrary 95 percent participation requirement. Does the school deserve to be labeled a failure?

The assumption that a disconnect between NCLB requirements and the community's own feelings about implementation is proof that schools are asleep at the wheel totally ignores the community, the school and the students an ignorance we had previously attributed only to the legislation itself. Looks like The Bee didn't do its homework either.

- Scott P. Plotkin, West Sacramento

Executive Director, California School Boards Assn.

Holding children hostage to some score on a disembodied test in order to get money is a bully tactic.

Parents sign waivers excusing their child from a test for sensible reasons, including that their child doesn't yet speak English well enough to understand the test or cried through the last test, or even vomited; their child's test anxiety creates the feeling of being a failure; their special education child's time is wasted with a test that's meaningless to him. The Bee thinks schools should force parents to force their kids to take mindless tests in order to get money.

If you want more money for education, dismantle the miseducative testing system. Billions of education dollars pour into corporations that support high stakes testing and, perhaps, the campaign coffers of policy-makers. Reroute that money to children and the schools that serve them. Allow more choice in order to seek creative, viable solutions for all.

- Karen D. Benson, Sacramento

Professor, Department of Teacher Education, CSUS

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 ("No Child Left Behind") requires schools to show progress in reading and math scores for eight subgroups of students: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, special-education students, the economically disadvantaged and those with limited English proficiency. If fewer than 95 percent of the students in any subgroup fail to take the required exams, the school will not meet the progress requirements. Where a subgroup consists of 50 students, three students being absent during even part of the testing results in the school being designated as failing to make "adequate yearly progress." Twenty-five percent of California schools failed to meet this inflexible requirement last year. But virtually 100 percent of California schools will be labeled "failing" by NCLB within a few years, because the law requires that every student - even the most profoundly disabled - be "proficient," which is defined as capable of university work without remediation.

- George Sheridan, Garden Valley

Our 25-cents' worth

Re "New quarter called natural choice," March 30: I note that it took an actor to modify the design for the state's quarter in a manner clearly intended as an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," as filmed in the early 1960s at Bodega Bay. The murderous avian in our quarter's scene, apparently mistaking conservationist John Muir for the lovely Tippi Hedren, swoops for the jugular to strike the death blow.

It's the greatest action coin in the nation - fantastic!

- Dan Kehew, Davis

Half Dome? Yes, absolutely. But it's too bad those who had the final word in choosing the design opted to ignore the single greatest factor in the history and development of California - the discovery and mining of gold, represented by the gold miner.

While I appreciate Muir, the choice of this figurehead as a major state symbol demonstrates the stranglehold of the Sierra Club. And the selection of the California condor, an obscure vulture (not even our state bird), over the more familiar and beautiful California poppy, which now covers our springtime hills and roadsides? Whatever happened to the Golden State?

- Mary Easley, Orangevale


In 1976, we started a small manufacturing business in Sacramento. At our peak we employed more than 200 people in California. By the end of this year, we will completely close down our California manufacturing.

For 28 years we have survived every obstacle, but not the inaction and the incompetence of California politicians to fix the workers' compensation system. This year, for every $1,000 of wages that we pay in California, we will pay $273 in workers' compensation insurance. In our Utah facility, for every $1,000 in wages, we will pay $44 in insurance.

There were other considerations involved with us moving out of state, but the anti-business climate was the crowning blow. The total outsourced jobs for the entire country is less than the number of jobs that have been forced out of California by the California Legislature.

- Mark Ballantyne, Sacramento

Vice President, CTEC Inc.

Helping those at risk

Re "Foster care gets Capitol scrutiny," March 17: Sacramento County is thinking of helping families build homes if they will take in "at-risk" families. Instead, I would like to see them use McClellan. If the "at risk" family can have a place of their own but have a sponsor family living within the same community, it would give both families a great sense of pride. To take that a step further, I would like to see an entire community service just these families. That would include schools, grocery stores, counselors, church, auto repair - the works.

If part of the stipulation of living in such a community is that you work within the community and give back, just think of all the money over time that would be saved. This seems like such a win-win situation.

- Jennette Cotter, Citrus Heights

multiple authors

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