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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 17, 2009 at 4:32 PM

Education reform

Testing cannot measure it all

David Brooks wrote last week about President Obama’s vision for education [“President Obama’s speech signals a serious approach to education,” syndicated column, March 14]. He used the story of Obama’s mom waking him up early as a boy for extra tutoring to illustrate the “two traits necessary for academic success: relationships and rigor.”

Brooks talks about using test scores to measure progress, including “which students had which teachers so we can assess what’s working and what’s not.” In an apparent contradiction, he also talks about an Obama plan to give merit pay to “good teachers (the ones who develop emotional bonds with students)” and fire the “bad teachers (the ones who treat students like cattle to be processed).”

I’ve never heard of any quantitative way to measure emotional bonds, so instead we measure test scores. Our assessment system does exactly what Obama suggests we must not do: treat students like cattle. Students who pass the test are allowed to move on; those who don’t are sent back to the mill for more “processing.”

Furthermore, I believe that measuring the success of students, teachers and schools based on test scores alone is simply wrong! The purpose of education is, I believe, to help create adults who can read, write and compute, think creatively to solve problems, feel the joy of discovery, see the beauty in a musical composition or work of art, and who are prepared to live, work and get along in a complex world. Most of that cannot be measured on any standardized test.

The losers in all this are the students themselves, whose curriculum is being reduced to only those subjects that are on the test. How about we measure successful schools based on the opportunities they offer kids to explore art, music, literature, history, science and the whole myriad endeavors that make up the human experience? Which schools would pass muster then?

— Daniel Haeck (teacher), Federal Way

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