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Remedial-Classes Question: How Effective Are They?

To the Editor:

Your recent article "Who's Responsible? Taking Sides on Remedial Classes" (related story) raises, I believe, the wrong question. The question that should be asked is: How effective are college remedial programs?

The answer to this question is what should guide policymakers in their decisionmaking process.

Research has been completed regarding this question. Back in the 1970's, I conducted such research and concluded that, in general, college students who participated in remedial reading and study-skills programs did not improve their grade-point averages. However, I did find that student grade-point averages improved when students' remedial programs were individualized to match their learning styles.

My guess is that over the past two decades hundreds of studies evaluating college remedial reading, writing, mathematics, and study-skills programs have been conducted. These studies should be reviewed by policymakers. If the programs work, then continue offering them. If they do not, abandon them.

But if colleges continue to admit students in need of remediation, they have a responsibility to help the students succeed. If traditional remedial programs do not work, then some other approaches need to be investigated.

Richard P. Santeusanio
Superintendent of Schools
Danvers, Mass.

Touting Computerized Tests' Potential for K-12 Arena

To the Editor:

Since we are in the process of developing a student-assessment center partially using computer-adaptive testing, I read Winton Manning's "The Test No One Needs" with interest (related story ). We have been piloting adaptive tests in mathematics and English for non-native speakers and are in the process of developing one in the Spanish language as well.

Contrary to Mr. Manning's generally negative reactions, our experience has proved otherwise. Among other findings, we have learned that:

Computer-adaptive tests are much more "student friendly." Rather than testing what the student doesn't know, they determine his or her level of confidence and stop there. No more final group of questions that are too difficult for the student to answer, which lessens the very negative feeling at test completion.

This kind of test can be administered at any time. What is so sacred about Saturday mornings? Why not allow students to take an exam when it fits their biological clock (some kids do better at night, for example) rather than when it fits the convenience of our administrative schedule?

Computer-adaptive testing can provide immediate feedback. Since we use our tests for initial placement in English, mathematics, and Spanish classes, our students can get a print-out of their results immediately after they complete the exam.

Since the test is not timed, students do not feel a time pressure to complete it. This is especially important for students with special needs.

Since each test is adaptive, proctoring is kept to a minimum. If 30 students take the English placement exam in our computerized-assessment center simultaneously, they will have 30 separate exams.

And lastly, the exam can be much shorter without losing accuracy. Because the computer analyzes each student's "answer history," it is able to pinpoint a general ability level in about 20 minutes of test time.

We still require students to take a standardized paper-and-pencil test for admission, so we have been able to compare those results with the new adaptive instruments. Out initial analysis suggests that using the computer-adaptive tests for placement has given us a better predictor of student success.

While Mr. Manning may have found some glitches in the Educational Testing Service's initial computer-adapted Graduate Record Examination, I caution against a premature rejection of this new testing approach. We have found it, in practice, to be a very effective new educational technology.

Ray Petty
Visiting Professor of Education
Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico
Mercedita, P.R.

Of S.A.T., Course Grades, Which Is Gender-Biased?

To the Editor:

Like sightings of Elvis and flying saucers, the claims that the S.A.T. is biased against females seem to go on forever (related story ).

Apparently, some Berkeley, Calif., researchers have discovered that when men and women having similar S.A.T. scores go to college, the women make higher grades. What's the point? Females are assigned higher grades at every level of education. Rather than accuse the S.A.T. of under-predicting, perhaps teachers and professors should be accused of biased overgrading of female students.

A course grade incorporates achievement plus a package of other factors such as attendance, promptness, neatness, submitting work on time, legible handwriting, docility, obedience, and laughing at lame jokes. Feminine values dominate most classrooms. A class grade is in many ways just as much a symbol of academic process as it is of academic product. Objective standardized tests make no such adjustments. The scoring computer gives no points for being cooperative or cute, only for making correct responses.

Scholars are supposed to pride themselves in going wherever their data lead. At this point in time, the evidence of the S.A.T.'s bias against females is at best flimsy, and that reduces all implications to speculations.

Lawrence Beymer
Professor
Indiana State University
Terre Haute, Ind.

Environmental Revisionism: 'Pathetically Poor Judgment'

To the Editor:

Alan Caruba exhibits pathetically poor judgment by attempting to convince elementary-age youngsters that there is no need for concern about the world's environment (related story ). I imagine he thinks the widening hole in the ozone layer is trivial.

Mr. Caruba's attitude, like the title of the song, is "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Complex environmental problems will never be solved if people choose to ignore them. Contrary to Mr. Caruba's assertion, substantial evidence exists to support claims of environmental groups that the health of the earth and its inhabitants is, in fact, at risk.

I doubt, however, whether Mr. Caruba could provide any hard evidence to support his opinion that children have become "green neurotics" who are "frightened to death" over the environmental problems discussed in their science classes. In this man's logic, is a child neurotic if he or she decides to recycle an aluminum can instead of tossing it into a trash barrel headed for a landfill? Does a kid have to be scared witless to use an ultraviolet-protective sun screen?

Environmental education is not about scaring students into an apathetic stupor, nor is it about giving them a false sense of security. The task of environmental educators is to make students aware of present and potential dangers while teaching effective ways to counter them. Ultimately, the choice to act responsibly is the child's.

Jennifer Hopkins
Missoula, Mont.

Teaching Sexes Together Promotes Understanding

To the Editor:

Your March 15, 1995, article "Troubled N.J. School Turns to Single-Sex Classes" related story affected me personally, because I feel so strongly about boys and girls studying together.

The principal of Myrtle Middle School in Newark, N.J., apparently decided to divide his school by gender because of a complaint he got from one 8th-grade boy. The principal should not have used a lone incident to deprive both sexes in his school of the diverse, enriching atmosphere that coeducational classes promote.

Boys and girls can learn better together, through a mutual exchange of knowledge, skills, abilities, and aptitudes. They have the same goals: to do well in school and gain the respect of teachers and peers. Any differences they have can only benefit each other by broadening the base of experience present in the classroom.

Harmony is what we strive for in life; in order to achieve it, both sexes should be allowed to build the increased levels of communication and understanding that comes from a diverse classroom.

Boys and girls who learn together develop ways to talk with each other and to be friends. Coed classes thus produce positive relationships between the genders built on respect, self-control, and understanding.

Donnie Sirichanto
Cookeville, Tenn

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