Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

[Susan notes: This is one great letter: short, incisive, and informative. Use it as a model.]

Submitted to Sacramento Bee but not published

To the editor

NOTE: This letter was sent to the reporter, Erin Kennedy.

Dear Ms. Kennedy

If officials exclude students from the PSAT because they can't read it, then

why don't they exclude kids from the other k-12 California tests? These

other tests have no civil rights aspect--students will not be discouraged

from going to college if they don't take them. They are forced on the

students because of federal and California laws.

Virtually all multiple-choice test are designed so that only 50% of the

testtakers get any particular item right. There will be a few easy items at

the start and some harder ones usually near the end, but 50% correct gives

the widest dispersion of scores (62.5% correct if there is a correction for


The tests are also designed, must be designed so that students often pick

the wrong answers, conventionally known as "distractors." The test won't

"work" unless it can fool even native English speakers into choosing the

distractors. This feature makes many test questions very subtle

linguistically. The same students who can understand written English and

the more forgiving spoken English well enough to succeed in the classroom

might well fail a test. Teachers in classrooms are not normally attempting

to fool children; tests are.

Gerald Bracey, Independent Educational Researcher/Writer

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.