(submitted in response to Chris Sheridan's January 23, 2000 Plain Dealer commentary The test just isn't the problem)
January 23, 2000
Chris Sheridan, in her January 23 editorial The test just isn’t the problem, asks when faced with the state report cards and proficiency test scores, “Why are urban teachers so darned defensive, so sure they see slights at every turn?” To answer that question, one only has to look at her article’s opening sentence: “Cleveland teachers are still smarting from the low marks the district received…” Not Cleveland students, not Cleveland parents, not Mayor White, not Superintendent Byrd-Bennett, not The Cleveland School Board, not Cleveland School District Administrators and Principals, and not Cleveland residents and taxpayers, but Cleveland teachers are the first words. She implies that Cleveland teachers bear the sole responsibility for the district’s poor showing.
While there is no doubt that teachers have a great deal to do with how well students fare on the state proficiency test, her commentary omitted some obvious but critical facts:
· Students take the tests, not teachers.
· Parental participation in education has the greatest influence on student achievement.
· Teachers must teach according to a school’s curriculum or Graded Courses of Study.
· Local school boards (not the state or individual classroom teachers) ultimately control what is and is not in a school’s curriculum.
Teachers have no control of what goes on outside of the classroom. They cannot take the tests for the students, prevent them from being absent or dropping out (two of the 27 state indicators), make them do homework or review, or purchase the textbooks or materials that are best aligned with local, state, or national standards.
The state proficiency tests should be primarily assessments of student achievement. They may also serve a secondary purpose of assessing teachers as well as parents, principals, administrators, board members, superintendents, and in our city’s case, the mayor. Districts that score well on the report cards applaud and take pride in the efforts made by the whole community. Poor showings in all 27 areas must be blamed on everyone, not just one group. But Sheridan’s comments make it clear that she believes that if the problem is not the test, it has to be the teachers and the teachers alone. Are we, as a community, really that stupid?
Milton Alan Turner