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Higher Standards for Standardized Tests

June 06, 2002

Re "Value of Standardized Tests," editorial, May 31: In order to generate the comparisons in student performance that you claim are indispensable for judging educational quality, standardized test-makers need to create differences among student scores. If test-makers included only items measuring the most important content emphasized by teachers, scores might be too similar, making comparisons unsatisfactory.

To engineer score spread, test-makers build into standardized tests items assessing content that is highly unlikely to be taught in class. As a result, when tests are impervious to instruction, the results mislead the public. Arguing that standardized tests should continue to be used until a better instrument is developed is like arguing that antibiotics should be used to treat viral infections until something better comes along. Standardized tests and antibiotics are the wrong course of action in their respective cases.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles

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Thank you for correctly pointing out that standardized testing is an essential tool. California has made great strides over the past three years in developing a system of measuring student achievement and school improvement, one that will become even more informative over the next few years. Prior to adoption of a statewide, standardized test and a system of measuring improvement year to year, parents and the public had no way of determining how well their schools were performing compared with other schools nationally or to schools with similar demographics.

The Academic Performance Index now includes both a test based on national norms, to let the public know how California students are achieving compared with students in other states, and tests based on our rigorous state standards for what students should know in every grade. Both measurements provide important information and, when combined with classroom assessments and evaluations, should help schools and policymakers target instructional resources where they are needed most.

Kerry Mazzoni

California Secretary for

Education, Sacramento

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You write, "It is ... unfair to lower expectations for poor, minority children." This isn't the point at all. We have higher expectations of our educational system than what it is presently providing for our children: We expect a well-rounded curriculum, with an emphasis on critical thinking skills, instead of a narrow curriculum, teaching to an unfair, culturally and racially biased test.

Ronni Solman

Teacher, Allesandro Elementary

Los Angeles

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