Readers React

When test scores improve, does student learning?

To the editor: Harvard professor Paul E. Peterson takes as given that testing results indicate the level of learning. He implies that the fact that test scores have improved is proof that the tests have improved education. The only thing that better test scores prove is that students have become better test takers. ("No Child Left Behind and testing help hold schools accountable," op-ed, Feb. 23)

Of course students have become good test takers, with the immense amount of pressure applied to them over dumbed-down multiple-choice tests. A student may not know how to compose an essay, organize an experiment, research and extrapolate conclusions on a historical figure or explain the methodology used in arriving at a mathematical proof — but, when under pressure, a student can tell you it is best to answer "C" on a test because that is the most common answer (an odd piece of trivia that all U.S. students can tell you).

I have been a teacher for 20 years, and I ask my students every year when taking one of these high-stakes tests, "Have you ever been tired or frustrated or mad at your teacher and decided to do a poor job on a test?" Every student, every year raises his hand. I know the best way for me to get my students to do well on the tests is to be as nice to them as possible and beg them to do well — for me.

What do these tests actually measure?

Ron Harris, Simi Valley

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To the editor: Peterson claims scores "soared" in Washington after then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee instituted a pay for performance plan. This is very misleading.

As reported by USA Today, scores soared when several schools probably cheated. Scores plummeted in those schools the following year. The merit pay plan has resulted in higher pay for teachers in schools in high-income neighborhoods where students have always done well.

Meanwhile, the achievement gap has widened in Washington since Rhee's brand of school reform came to town.

Linda LaScola, Washington

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To the editor: There is a point in a child's education where he or she should be left behind. Public schools are overcrowded with kids who have no wish to be there.

Not every child is meant to be in school; we see this from Harvard professor Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences tests, consisting of various types of intelligence, perhaps most notably the "kinesthetic" intelligence. This intelligence involves individuals who work better with their hands, those better suited for the workforce rather than a college education, sitting behind a desk while they waste their talents.

I believe that parents should have a discussion with their children about their aspirations before registering for middle school, as registering an unmotivated student may be the precursor to four years of being "left behind."

Andersen Chiang, Chino Hills

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To the editor: If you evaluate teachers on school tests, you will see improvements — on school tests. Whether that's good education is another matter, a point that many disagree on.

Teachers resent being evaluated on school tests because these tests depend in part on factors over which they have little control, such as poverty, quality of family life, parental involvement and other variables. There are better ways to evaluate teachers and schools and to educate children.

Jean Lecuyer, Los Angeles

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