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Commentator George Skelton and the team of L.A. Times reporters, Jason Felch, Jason Song and Doug Smith do the public a disservice by repeating the fallacy that standardized tests are not only a reliable measure of student learning, they’re an excellent measure of the quality of instruction by teachers. The tests are inherently flawed, and yet these tests are proposed year after year as a palliative for all educational problems by pundits and politicians far from actual schools, actual teaching, and actual students.

George Skelton [“Parents Have the Right to Know: Teachers should be judged in part by how well students do” August 23, 2010] claims that focusing on test scores, and pretending that these numbers do things which they were never designed to do, “will make the public more informed.” But that’s not true. In fact, if you read the fine print, buried in the back pages of the newspaper, the L.A. Times admits that “Value-added ratings reflect a teacher’s effectiveness at raising standardized test scores. As such, they capture only one aspect of a teacher’s work, and, like any statistical analysis, they are subject to inherent error.” According to the Times this data is “subject to inherent error,” and yet in a series of articles, Skelton, Felch, Song and Smith are willing to use these inherently flawed numbers as a stick to beat teachers with.

School budgets are being cut across the nation. Class sizes have been raised to levels unseen for decades. Teachers and administrators have been laid off, transferred, or demoted. Teachers and administrators have had their pay cut and been assigned furlough days. Students are having a more and more difficult time getting the instruction they need, the classes they need, counseling and the support services, not to mention programs in art, music, athletics and other activities which make school meaningful. It is in this environment that Skelton and the pundits and politicians like him propose to make standardized tests all important. It’s not hard to see why. Because numbers seem to be objective and neutral (even if those who know better can tell you they are “subject to inherent error”). And more importantly, because you can focus on tests and try to pretend that budgets aren’t being cut, class sizes rising, art, music, athletics and enrichment programs being cut, counseling and support services slashed, all the while pretending that standardized tests are some magic bullet that will cure all these systemic ills. Budgets won’t have to be replaced, teachers won’t have to be hired, programs won’t have to be reconstructed, the culture of education won’t have to be nurtured—no, we’ll just test the students more and more and use that to scapegoat everyone—teachers and administrators alike—who has direct connection to the actual student.

This championing of standardized test scores as a cure-all in education (while simultaneously agreeing to slashing every other aspect of education) is not just erroneous, it’s fundamentally duplicitous and unfair to parents, teachers and students most of all. Finally, it is students who will be punished and dunned with these endless standardized tests, the boring curriculum that will be tailored to the tests, and the substandard schools which will continue to languish without educational programs that are actually meaningful to students. But, of course, Skelton and the test champions will never have to face the kids.

Sincerely,

Sesshu Foster

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August 2010
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