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Thank you for your thorough article about the Stanford 9 testing in the District of Columbia Public Schools (“The Test,” 7/3). As a DCPS teacher, I can tell you we were between a rock and a hard place—the scores were given such importance, yet a full year of class work was weighted lightly for both children’s and teachers’ evaluations. Two things you did not point out that add salt to the wound: Most children were administered only the multiple-choice section of the test (which reflects their understanding far less than the somewhat more real-life “open-ended” portions); and we had less than a full school year to show a year’s growth in test scores. We started three weeks late, several schools were evacuated (mine for a week, during which time we taught out of a hotel), and the tests were administered in October and early May, cutting nearly three months out of the year. We cannot possibly cover all we’re expected to teach in a full academic year, let alone in five-and-a half months.

More importantly, we have little choice for those students who score poorly. As you pointed out, retention does little, simply because it’s more of the same: large classes, an average ability difference of four years among children in one classroom, poor materials (Long is right—the DCPS-mandated math text is awful), overburdened teachers, etc. Teachers lie awake nights trying to decide which is the lesser of two evils—further watering down standards by passing poor students on, or signing a “failure warrant” for a student who is retained.

A final note: Oyster Bilingual Elementary School, my school, does not just do well because we are affluent. In fact, we have the best ratio of free or reduced lunches to high test scores in the city. It is exactly because we teach as you say, with an emphasis on literacy, in two languages, and hold very high standards for all of our children, that our children meet with such academic success. You should do an article on us—we’re doing amazing things there, with the most diverse student population in D.C.

Thanks again for a well-done article.

Mount Pleasant

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