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Valley Perspective

Stanford 9 Testing

October 29, 2000

Re "Standardized Test Scores Reveal Politics, Not Education," Valley Perspective, Oct. 22.

It's so easy to bash the Stanford 9 as an imperfect test instrument and to attribute gains to teachers teaching to the test and instructing students in test-taking skills. Such rhetoric diminishes the very real efforts that teachers and districts have made over the last year or two to improve student achievement.

Imperfect though it may be, the Stanford 9 is quite adequate for testing reading comprehension and mathematics proficiency. National expectations in language arts closely mirror those of the state.

You might make a case for lack of alignment to the California frameworks in spelling, science and social studies, and these issues should be addressed by the state. But these sub-tests do not figure prominently at the elementary level (science and social studies not at all!), which is where we saw the greatest gains across the state this year.

Having proctored the Stanford 9 tests as they were administered to elementary students, it was a simple matter for me to see what the principal problem was: students who are not good readers give up and do not even try to solve math problems or answer questions about the passage they are supposed to read. It was a clear indicator that reading is not a fundamental component of classroom assessment. They were able to perform verbally, but were not used to sustained reading or working independently, two skills that are vital to success in complex problem-solving and higher-order academics.

It's not that difficult to improve test scores in this scenario. One way is to really work hard on reading skills and independent work at every grade level.

Schools must make sure that students have adequate practice in language arts and problem-solving to develop facility and confidence. (Why is it only called "drill and kill" when it's academic exercise, not athletics or music that is being practiced?) Most schools are working on every component mentioned without sacrificing fine arts, music and P. E. Some might call this teaching to the test. I just call it good teaching.

The tired cry of cultural bias grates like a whining old fiddle. Teachers must take responsibility for promoting cultural bias by not teaching traditional cultural elements because they abhor the imposition of American culture on students who may not be as European as they are. Unfortunately, such misplaced concern merely ensures that such students will never be as advantaged, either. In the meantime, deficiencies in the test are not responsible for 30- and 40-percentile-point differences in test scores. These tests are accurately reflecting lower academic achievement.

It is up to educators to accurately diagnose the reasons why, but blaming the test is a cop-out.

ANN HARRIS

Trustee,

Eastside Union School District

Lancaster

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