Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
John H. Buchanan was absolutely right in addressing the problem of students being disengaged from the world around them ("The Value of Community-Service Programs," Commentary, April 5, 1989).
But he does not, I think, put his finger on the real underlying problem: the structure of the high school. Its whole thrust is to isolate students--separating them from the adults in the community and separating bodies of knowledge both from each other and from the real world where, presumably, they will be applied.
If a community-service program is imposed on this structure, it is bound to be less effective than if it were part of a school philosophy that seeks to integrate students with the outside world.
In our school districts, we have some promising programs that do just that.
For example, students in science classes work with community leaders and practicing scientists on community problems, such as water quality. Then they get involved in the solutions to these problems by taking active part in community meetings, writing letters to editors, making presentations to groups, and other activities.
This is community service of the best kind, combining math, science, English, and social studies, as well as developing a sense of belonging.
As part of the school program, community service should be a natural outgrowth of learning, not just an add-on that has no rel4evance to the rest of the curriculum, and it should enhance the academic development of the students, not just their sense of community belonging.
As part of a healthy interchange between adults and students, I would also like to see community members make free use of the high school, taking courses whenever they like and mingling with the students.
Myra H. Jones Coordinator, Gifted Programs Franklin, N.C. To the Editor:
A recent article ("Physician's Test Study Was 'Clearly Right,' a Federally Sponsored Analysis Has Found," April 5, 1989) and Gerald W. Bracey's Commentary ("Advocates of Basic Skills 'Know What Ain't So,"' April 5, 1989) prompted me to write about my experiences with achievement tests.
In the mid-70's, I moved to a small town, where I accepted a position as a 6th-grade teacher.
As I looked through my prospective students' 5th-grade achievement-test scores, I was delighted. Nearly all of the students had scored at the 5th-grade level or above in most areas--even though they were, I was told, low achievers.
But before the first week of school was over, it was obvious that the math and reading levels of most of the students were closer to 3rd grade than to 5th.
It took little inquiry to discover that the 5th-grade teacher had been suspected by other teachers for years of tampering with answer sheets. However, administrators had ignored their concern.
Certainly, most administrators would not be so negligent, but how many such teachers would it take to skew national averages?
That experience initiated my distrust of standardized tests. Since then, I have found other reasons to doubt their validity.
They are unfair to students with below-average reading abilities. With the exception of math computation, answering questions correctly depends on the ability to read at grade level.
A student may have a good understanding of science concepts, for example, but if he has low reading skills, his scores will not indicate his true ability in science.
In addition, it seems to me impossible to devise meaningful social-studies and science achievement tests at the elementary level. There are simply too many concepts that can be taught.
The procedure in testing, we student teachers were told in college, is to establish objectives, teach to those objectives, and test what has been taught. (Teaching to achievement tests is considered unethical, of course.)
We were also cautioned to use varying techniques for valid measurements.
But standardized tests apparently have some magical quality that makes it unnecessary for them to be formulated on these criteria.
And now, with emphasis on excellence in education, a number of states have developed their own versions of standardized tests.
Perhaps these tests are a necessary evil--or perhaps if more teachers had time to voice their disapproval, more valid forms of testing would be developed.
June Hart Teacher Eminence Elementary School Eminence, Mo.