Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

[Susan notes: Kudos to Carole Puckett, who teaches second grade in the Fairfax County public school system. Not only did she write a great letter, but she signed her name. We badly need more teachers to speak out.

The letter is especially good in its specificity. This isn't whining. This is factual. And it is very persuasive.

Thank you, Carole.]

Published in Washington Post

To the editor

I have been following the No Child Left Behind battle between Fairfax County and the U.S. Education Department over whether students who have limited English proficiency should be exempt from standardized reading tests.

I have heard at least one school board member say it was not the child who was being assessed but rather the school system. As a public school teacher, I know this is true only in theory.

It is the child, not the school system, who will break down crying when faced with an inappropriate test.

It is the child, not the school system, whose self-esteem is destroyed when he sees his peers finishing quickly and easily as he is given all day to complete a test that makes no sense to him.

It is the child, not the school system, who misses physical education, music, art and recess as he is allowed unlimited time to finish a test that involves metaphor, double negatives and long reading passages that are printed out of context.

Imagine being an 8-year-old boy or girl who has been in this country 13 months and is faced with the following questions (actual items from a released 2005 third-grade Virginia Standards of Learning test):

  • You can't _____ that heavy turnip on the

    _________ scale because it would break it!

  • Which pair of words makes the sentence correct?

    a. way, knew

    b. weigh, knew

    c. way, new

    d. weigh, new

  • Wouldn't it be wonderful to live in a caboose?

  • Which of these is another way to write "Wouldn't"?

    a. Will not

    b. Would not

    c. Will never

    d. Would never

    Does anyone (other than the federal government) actually believe these are appropriate questions to gauge whether an 8-year-old has mastered the English language in 13 months? Why is it important for an 8-year-old to understand the words "turnip" and "caboose"? And who would ever say, " Would not it be wonderful to live in a caboose?"

    To the commonwealth of Virginia and to the federal government, I say let individual counties develop fair tests.

    We are the ones teaching English. We are the ones teaching math and science and social studies to non-English speakers. And the students are learning it. Don't diminish our efforts with inappropriate, poorly designed tests.

    Carole Puckett

    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.