Letters to the Editor: Don’t obsess over test scores. American students are talented and smart


To the editor: There is a distinct difference between an exam meritocracy and a talent meritocracy.

Although the United States has never ranked near the top on the Program for International Student Assessment exam or on any other tests of international competition, its students have gone on to distinguish themselves in other areas.

That’s not an excuse but an explanation given short shrift in today’s obsession with raw test scores.

Walt Gardner, Los Angeles


The writer, who taught for 26 years in L.A. public schools, blogs about education at


To the editor: A key reason why Finland does so well in its education programs is that for two straight years that country was ranked at the top in the U.N. World Happiness Report.

Finland’s education system aims not to leave anyone behind rather than focusing on nurturing high achievers. Motivation is monumentally important when it comes to students’ academic success.

There is no doubt that poverty at home is important to note in discussing weak academic results, as the L.A. Times Editorial Board says. But all students, regardless of their economic condition, can be motivated to do well.

An example on how to do that was just cited in a commentary in the National Science Teaching Assn. publication NSTA Reports. While science fairs are highly motivating for the few winners, recognizing the hundreds of participating students motivates them all, not just the high achievers.

This is one example of how the United States can stimulate students to love academics and do well in school.


Steven B. Oppenheimer, Northridge

The writer is a professor emeritus at Cal State Northridge and a U.S. Presidential Award Winner for science student mentoring.


To the editor: Poverty is correlated with poor performance; it is not the cause.

The cause of both poverty and poor scores are parents who are poorly educated, don’t read much and don’t have a strong sense not only of the value of education, but the belief that their children can do well. These are at the heart of the problem.

Research going back decades demonstrates that parents are the biggest factor in a child’s educational success. If our children are to do better, we need to help parents give their children the tools for success. This has to happen well before kindergarten. In fact, it has to happen in the first three years of life.

Economist James Heckman, a Nobel laureate, developed one such program that focuses on helping parents nurture the intellectual capacities of their children. We need to invest in these programs.

Richard Stithem, Redondo Beach