[Susan notes: There is nothing more powerful than an informed parent. Our community of education professionals continues to miss the benefits available from seeking partnership with parents like Anne E. Levin Garrison. ]
Submitted to San Diego Union Tribute but not published
Feb. 22, 2006
Dear Mr. Navarette:
I read your article Dumb exit-exam lawsuit, "distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group" and had little trouble understanding why you might feel compelled to support educational policy that continues to erode the learning environment-- but support, by windfalls, a testing orientation, that, in turn, supports the growing financial interests of associated educational services such as test-prep and tutoring companies provide. May I ask you if you receive financial gain in addition to job security from the Washington Post's Kaplan educational services?
I understand that that you wrote this passage in sarcasm:
"Why stop here? Why not do away with tests all together? We should go into
individual classrooms and throw out chemistry tests, algebra tests and, of
course, those dreaded English tests. I mean, it's just not fair, the
argument would follow, that a student could show up to class every day and
work hard and then have his grade boil down to his performance on a single
And I understand the point you are trying to make in hyperbole when you wrote:
"...I think that people ought to pass a whole battery of exams before becoming parents. What a terrible
message that sort of attitude sends to the child - if you don't pass your
tests, don't worry. Mommy will hire a lawyer and make it all better."
And I do understand your very common, mostly politically and economically inspired statement on the testing ideal:
"What we should be worried about isn't the test but
what the test is revealing, namely that our public schools are failing to
provide many of our kids with even basic academic skills."
I would like to clarify a few points that you have evidently either chosen to omit, or are not substantially informed about-- which reduces your commentary to yet another piece of rhetorical but unsupported and dishonest participation in an act that has done as much harm to students, teachers, classrooms and schools, as it has brought gain to educational entrepreneurs who are largely economic opportunists with an eye on revenues.
You write with a naive trust or ignorance that the tests themselves are not as flawed as in reality they are. Should it matter at all to you, there are innumerable illustrations of the lack of verifiable scientific or educational purpose, or substance of these high-stakes tests. If you would like to become informed about the reality of these tests and associated research, it should be quite easy for you to educate yourself with many current academic research studies. I will supply you with lists, should you desire them. I do, however, believe that even if you write in opinion, you still have an obligation to be informed. There are also parents, and students, and teachers, who, although devalued in your writing, are not simply trying to "save Johnnie from working hard" as you intimate in your essay, but rather, who understand, through experience, that the tests, created to address the NCLB requirements over the last 4 years, were developed very quickly, and are often poorly constructed, very limited in scope or breadth, and are, you are correct in this assumption, simple, to the point of serious illogic. The student with any degree of intellectual or language or developmental compromise, surely will have the most difficult time passing these tests. Unfortunately, even the most ambitious students, also have problems with these same tests; the tests are flawed, they are both inappropriate and incomprehensible. They certainly do not, as you imply, evaluate or define the adequacy of a student's education. At best, standardized tests measure test preparation results and ignore the significant effects of a large and important melange of variables that preclude their validity (such as poverty, race, aptitude, language, development, and many other significant but crucial human variables of known influence and impact.)
The question is not whether the student who fails the high-stakes exam is poorly prepared for an exam of merit. Rather, the question is, how the classroom instruction has been so damaged by the act in several years time, that there is no longer any time left to address teaching the "basics" as you call them, or the skills of analysis and thought that we used to dedicate time to in the classroom. The idea of a foundation, taught to each child at a level that would meet each child's individual learning needs is lost to the standardization of classes, and learning, and teaching, right along with the standardization of tests.
In my children's schools, the chemistry and algebra and english tests that you sarcastically refer to, and imply have substantiative, academic value, could easily be "thrown out" and result in a markedly superior teaching and learning environment for the students. This would return the development of curriculum to the teachers and each associated department of teachers who have studied their academic area for years, and along with their knowledge and study and experience in pedagogical practice, have found that the new structure and directives of standardization have extinguished their input into the classroom. The text-book moguls are more likely to control the classroom and if you have been educated, you must know that while textbooks can be a benefit when used as resources, they rarely have the capability of being broad, consistently current and correct, nor do they have the depth or flexibility to be the singular reference for a substantial and beneficial academic learning environment.
I believe that your perspective on tests is, unfortunately, not unique, but I also believe that it is harmful and insidious in that you perpetuate a myth about our schools to prove your allegiance to a political and financial-gains movement that is being staged with a cadre of opportunists waiting to sweep in for further financial gain as soon as the myth of our public schools' failure does it's ultimate destruction and what we are left with is a shift from a public to a privatized school system, run by greed, and controlled by a powerful, but ill-prepared business community.
The public school system, did, in fact, deserve to make progress, did deserve political and national attention, did deserve a premium investment of funds, does deserve our national attention and investment. What it did and does not deserve is a finger-wagging and a mark of failure for the mess it is in following the directives of a maladjusted act for the last 4 years which caused enormous damage on broad levels and which encourages continued damage in it's spotlight on rapidly implemented, seriously flawed, test-results.
In the spirit of your essay, I hesitate to join you in your sarcasm, but, as you create an attack, in words, on the parents who see seize this opportunity to speak out on behalf of their children and their children's education, I wonder, whether your parents may not have reminded you enough times to think before you speak -- or write.
Anne E. Levin Garrison
Parent and Advocate for the survival and redemption of Public Education
Anne E. Levin Garrison