Bias evident in misguided editorial
As educators in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District of California, we would like to offer some comments on the recent editorial, “Test scores: Teaching inequality,” an editorial that exhibits a great deal of racial bias and misinformation.
The article claims “the state once again panders to less capable schools and students at the expense of those schools that have a proven track record and college-bound students.” The “less capable schools” are defined as those “of color or lower income level.” According to the author’s opinion, students of color who marginally improve their test scores will be weighted more heavily than white students who significantly improve.
That may be Ms. Fortier’s opinion, but as far as we can ascertain, this is not what the governor is proposing. Since the API is brand new and we do not know all the facets of the proposal, we will not enter into a discussion of the proposal per se, but will limit our comments to the attitude expressed throughout the editorial.
Since Bijou Community School was singled out for mention, we will respond from that frame of reference.
The teachers at Bijou Community School are privileged to teach children who bring a variety of ethnic diversity and family background experiences to the classroom. We consider this a benefit, not a drawback. Of even greater benefit would be the enhancement of this diversity by mixing and sharing it with other elementary schools in the district to the advantage of all concerned. Such a mingling would greatly improve the acquisition of English by our limited-English population. Unfortunately, this issue of desegregation is one we have not been able to resolve in spite of the recommendations of committees formed for just this purpose.
We teach, as do all teachers in the district, “to the students” we have in our classrooms with the goal of improvement, with or without financial incentives.
Now, is Bijou Community School with 85 percent minority students a “less capable school” because the students are of limited learning ability? Or is it rather the case that our students are of average, above average and below average ability – a typical student population – limited not by lack of innate ability, but rather by circumstances beyond their control?
All parents struggle with supervising their children’s homework because of the demands the workforce puts on them. Many children, as well, may come from homes that, for the most part, have no books, magazines and newspapers in them. They may not have been read to and have not experienced the enrichment of travel other than to go a few blocks from home to visit family, friends or church, usually in non-English-speaking settings. Yet the language of the school, the textbooks and the TEST is English.
How can one call “pandering” the rewarding of students who make even small (“marginal”) improvements in spite of these obstacles? We doubt there will be many teachers looking to “grab up” $25,000 as rewards for class improvements. If teachers at mostly white schools were “grabbing up” the $25,000 would any concern be voiced?
Do teachers “teach to the test?” Teachers don’t have the tests in hand so they can’t have students memorize answers. Security about test material is uncompromising.
However, pressure to do well on the test comes from the public as well as local and statewide administration. For all intents and purposes, real teaching stops toward the end of March in order to “start preparing for the tests.” Some teachers may spread this out over the year, but the end result is the same – many hours of precious class time devoted to test-taking preparation. This intense preparation contributes to test anxiety among the students. (Remember how you, as a child, “looked forward” to taking a test?) Yes, the goal of our schools is to raise the achievement of all students. But in our society that achievement is judged almost solely by the result of standardized tests.
Ms. Fortier states, “allowing state funds to be in any way dictated by the color or financial status (of the students) is a destructive precedent.” We consider, on the other hand, that such considerations are positive factors and long overdue in that they recognize the enormous obstacles faced by children of color and low financial status. And hasn’t our own country already set such a precedent by providing extra funds for low-income and minority students?
In our opinion, the underlying assumptions of this editorial are destructive, divisive, inflammatory and do not contribute to the good of the community. It would behoove Ms. Fortier to check her facts and base her opinions on those facts rather than personal bias.
Connie La Croix
Jo Anna Chamarro
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