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BLAME THE TEST LAUSD DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR LOW SCORES.

Byline: CHRIS WEINKOPF

SCHOOLS in the Los Angeles Unified School District, its own board of education admits, ``are resourced inequitably and suffer from a shortage of high-quality academic materials, a dearth of high-caliber, well-supported, certificated teachers and a limited availability of college preparatory classes.''

In other words, they stink.

In an organization with any sense of shame, such a blanket admission of failure would be followed by an avalanche of apologies, if not resignations. If this were Japan, administrators would be falling on their swords.

But LAUSD board members understand shame no better than too many LAUSD students can spell it. In the LAUSD, the response to failure isn't accepting responsibility, it's pointing fingers.

In a resolution passed last week, LAUSD board members pretend it's not their fault the district continues to rank among the last academically in a state that ranks among the last in the nation. The blame belongs to ``high- stakes tests'' like the Stanford 9 and California's High School Exit Exam. Reliance on such tests, the board grumbles, ``unfairly penalizes students that have not been provided with the academic tools to perform to their highest potential on these tests.''

That's a convenient way of dodging the question of who, exactly, has neglected to provide those students with the ``academic tools'' they need, a question the LAUSD would just as soon ignore entirely.

The resolution, authored by members Genethia Hayes and Jose Huizar, denounces the only two objective, statewide evaluations of academic performance. It calls for ``more equitable and academically constructive tools to measure student learning and school performance,'' preferably ones that gloss over the district's glaring deficiencies.

The board complains that the tests ``discriminate based on language because they are only given in English'' - the language in which, by law, California students are supposed to be getting educated. And predictably, it trots out the demographics card, noting that on the HSEE, ``African-American and Latino students were failed at twice the rate of whites, and low-income students at twice the rate of middle-class students.''

Note the old trick of passing the buck by employing the passive voice. The students were failed. They didn't flunk the test due to a woeful lack of preparation; the test failed them. Some nefarious conspiracy of racist test-makers deliberately crafted questions that only whites (and Asians) could answer - questions about NASCAR and Corona beer. Then they tossed on some gimmees for the rich kids, like what's the net worth of Warren Buffett?

The only problem is the board offers no evidence that such an evil operation is underfoot. If anything, the Stanford 9, which peppers its word problems with names like Keneesha, Jose and Chung-Li, goes out of its way to eliminate even the hint of ethnic bias. All the school board has to show for the alleged unfairness is ``an achievement gap'' that roughly follows socioeconomic lines.

But tests don't create discrepancies, they report them. It's not the job of testing to help disadvantaged kids catch up with their privileged classmates - that's the job of public education. In Los Angeles, it's the job of the LAUSD. That's a large part of why L.A. maintains one, massive, citywide school district in the first place, so that (in theory) children in Brentwood receive the same schooling as children in Pacoima.

The Stanford 9 and HSEE show how pathetically short the LAUSD falls of achieving its very purpose. Their ``achievement gap'' isn't an indictment of standardized testing, but of the district itself. No wonder the LAUSD's overlords would like to do away with standardized testing as quickly as possible.

The Stanford 9, to be sure, has its problems. Subjecting 7-year-olds who can scarcely sit still for 10 minutes to hours of uninterrupted examination is probably not the best way to measure their achievements. But there's a value (and it's the law) in maintaining an objective, even if imperfect, measure applied statewide, one that records success, progress and - more often than not in the LAUSD - lack thereof.

Whatever the faults of the Stanford 9 or HSEE, racism and elitism aren't among them. That charge would be more fairly directed at the LAUSD board of education (save David Tokofsky, who alone voted against the anti-testing resolution), whose members seem to think that poor and minority kids are somehow less able to learn than their richer and whiter peers.

As LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer observed in a moment of clarity, telling kids that the tests are racist hardly inspires them to strive for success. It only encourages them to follow in the footsteps of their school board - and settle for mediocrity, or worse.

CAPTION(S):

photo, drawing

Photo:

(color) Roy Romer

Drawing:

(color) LAUSD EXAM

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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 2, 2002
Words:781
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