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Education Standards

August 11, 1991

I read with great interest the interview with Los Angeles school board member Mark Slavkin (Times, Aug. 4).

Mr. Slavkin states: "The critical piece that's missing is accountability based on student outcomes. To really improve schools, we need to create an environment in which everyone is judged based on how well the kids are doing."

What Mr. Slavkin fails to define, as do so many other critics of the system, is exactly what across-the-board standards are to be used to judge "accountability" and "student progress."

What almost every critic of the system fails to emphasize is that every child's progress is cumulative. Almost the only thing that follows a child from his first introduction to public school in kindergarten until his graduation from high school is his cumulative folder. Technically, any teacher could blame a child's lack of progress in any given classroom on the child's earlier experience--in both classroom and at home, and however "good" or "bad" that teacher might be, he would have a lot of ground to stand on.

I, a kindergarten teacher, see tremendous differences in the so-called "achievement" of children that walk into my public school classroom for the first time in their lives: very young children barely 4 1/2 years old vs. those who just missed the cutoff deadline last year; children who have had good day care and pre-K experience since toddlerhood vs. those who stayed home with sometimes illiterate baby-sitters; children who have come into this world as "drug" babies and have moved from foster home to foster home year after year. Am I to be judged on the individual progress of these children in one year?

And if I am to be judged, by what standards? The National Assn. for the Education of Young Children and the California Kindergarten Assn. are working very hard to abolish standardized testing and grading in children through age 8. If they manage to do this, how is anyone supposed to judge early childhood teachers?

If judging the progress of children through age 8 is so controversial, judging the progress of children 8 to 18 is hardly less so. More than once I have heard low test scores justified by the fact that a given school should only be compared to another school of the same ethnic, socioeconomic or geographic makeup. In other words, it is not considered fair to judge the test scores of South-Central Los Angeles against those of the Westside. But if it is not fair, who is to lay down the standards by which the South-Central teachers are judged? Or the Westside teachers? Are we not all in the same business?

Our business is the process of developing constantly changing individual human beings--a business unlike any other assembly line in the world. If a United Auto Worker leaves a bearing or a valve or a screw out of an automobile, the culprit can generally be traced. This is true of almost any assembly-line process dealing with inanimate objects. But it is often almost impossible to find the culprit responsible for the illiterate high-school graduate. Generally, there are many culprits and the effect is cumulative.

Then how are we to hold individual teachers accountable? This is the answer I have yet to hear from the Board of Education, from United Teachers-Los Angeles or from the other millions of kibitzers of our educational system.

CHERRY C. BELANGER

Kindergarten teacher

54th Street School

Los Angeles

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