Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Speaking Truth To Power

Noa Rosinplotz from Facebook and other websites

The following is a letter written a while back by a sixth grader to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It has appeared in many places since its first publication. I got it from Diane Ravitch's blog.

The writer is a student in Washington D.C. named Noa Rosinplotz. Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews was able to verify that Noa is the daughter of Slate editor-in-chief, David Plotz, and former Post reporter Hanna Rosin. Although her parents read her letter before she published it, they did not write it for her. Noa is a gifted student. She nails the problem with standardized testing, No Child Left Behind, and Race To The Top. For that reason, this piece must be shared. Here is Noa Rosinplotz's letter:

Dear Mr. Duncan,

I’m writing you because I got my DC CAS results in the mail.

See, I thought you might want to know what they were. I certainly don’t. I mean, the first thing I noticed in that packet was the paper. It’s fancy and green-a pretty light green, which sort of fades out when it gets to the end of the paper.

I thought you might want to know, Mr. Duncan. Your system paid for my thick pastel green paper, and for all the ink that goes into telling me that I got a 91% on Reading Literary Text. Oh-I forgot to introduce myself. No need-I got Advanced, which is what you’re wondering.

I bet you’re also wondering how I feel about that. Am I happy, relieved, perhaps surprised? But I forgot-you don’t have to know, Mr. Duncan, because all that matters is I got Advanced.

But I’ll tell you anyway. You can’t know every child in this country and their reactions to the pretty green paper. But at least you can know me, just one datapoint, one spot on the chart. When I saw that green paper, I didn’t hold it up to the light or smile or show it to my parents. I tossed it back on the table and went to eat an August nectarine.

Let me tell you what’s on my sheet, Mr. Duncan. It says my name, student ID, teacher, birthday (ours are barely a month apart, Mr. Duncan), and the city I live in, Washington, DC. You live here too. I wonder if you’ve ever seen me on the street, riding my bike or walking with friends. Your eyes probably went right over me and you forgot me milliseconds after remembering.

You might know me, though, in the back of your brain, as Advanced. Let’s get back to the sheet, though. Want to hear what I can do? I can read sixth grade informational and literary texts and analyze author’s purpose and supporting evidence. I can use and analyze diverse organizational structures to locate information, interpret and paraphrase information, interpret subtle language, analyze relevance of setting to the events and mood of a narrative, and use stated words, actions, and descriptions of characters to determine their feelings and relationships to other characters.

But that’s not all! I can use tables to compare ratios! I can solve problems involving finding the whole when given a part and the percent! I can multiply slash divide multi digit decimals! I can use order of operations to evaluate expressions with multiple variables and whole-number exponents, solve an inequality that represents a real-world math problem, analyze relationships of ordered pairs in graphs slash tables!

Aren’t you proud of me, Mr. Duncan? I can see you, in my head, reading this and thinking: “That girl sounds like a real charmer. I mean, how many girls who can describe overall pattern with reference to the context in which data were gathered are there out there?”

But I don’t care, Mr. Duncan, I don’t care. I can fill in bubbles and I can write my name nice and neat up in the line on my answer sheet where it tells me to do so. I can use scrap paper efficiently and check whether a pencil is #2 with a single glance. I know the testing procedures, I know my testing seat, and I know how to leave adequate time for BCRs.

Aren’t you proud of me, Mr. Duncan?

Because this is what I have learned. This is what No Child Left Behind has taught me. I have learned to be a puppet and take their tests and get a fancy green paper every year in the mail, except for when it’s just a gray photocopy. I am twelve years old and I know as well as anybody that standardized tests do nothing but cause pain and stress for everybody involved. And oh, have I learned. I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible.

School has taught me things, and tests have taught me other things. I can speak Spanish fluently and find palindromic numbers and write letters to education officials and formulate a hypothesis and everything in between. But on test days, none of that matters.

All that matters is the busy work in front of me, the math problems and confusing passages that swim beneath my vacant gaze and leave me thinking of anything, everything but what lies ahead in the next two hours. And after all this is done, after we drink water and use the bathroom and return to our daily lives, what happens?

Fancy green papers are released and people’s fates are decided. But we, the students, we, the people, are never consulted. We care and we take the tests and we don’t like it. Do you want facts, Mr. Duncan? I’ve got plenty. Oh, and by the way, I looked for a student survey to show you here. There were none.

For my science experiment last year, I gave our 5th grade citywide benchmark, the Paced Interim Assessment, or PIA, to a group of English professors at various universities across the country. Their average was a meager 89%, much lower than one would expect from some of the experts on the English language in the US. Nobody got a perfect score. According to a survey of Indiana teachers, 85.7% of teachers disagree or strongly disagree that standardized testing is an accurate measure of student achievement.

A mere 22% of Americans “believe increased testing has helped the performance of local public schools,” according to a poll released by PDK/Gallup After the implementation of NCLB, students fared no better on the PISA, dropping from 18th place to 31st place in mathematics internationally. · A New Mexico high school teacher, citing his students’ impatience with standardized tests, revealed that the kids had started drawing designs on their bubble sheets instead of taking the actual tests: “Christmas tree designs were popular. So were battleships and hearts.”

I was going to put a test question here, but that’s making it too easy for you. Look at one yourself. And you know the rest, Mr. Duncan. Ask Google. Google will tell you more. I’m not asking for you to stop these tests, Mr. Duncan. I know it isn’t your fault. I just want you to hear a student’s opinion. You have kids-they can tell you. Nobody listens to the datapoints, so we must make ourselves heard.
Your job is to support us, Mr. Duncan. Please, do so, the best you can.

Listen, and look out for me on the streets of the nation’s capital. I’ll do the same. Maybe on the basketball court, maybe in a cafĂ© or a diner. You might be downtown, taking your kids to the movies or boating on the Potomac. You might be on the same bus as me, or waiting at the same stoplight. We’re both people, Mr. Duncan, and you know that.

So listen and read this. Maybe it’ll make you think, change your mind on all this. And if you do end up reading this, I’m the Advanced kid with a purple bracelet on her right wrist and long curly hair. Smile at me if you see me, but I won’t smile back. Not until the fancy green paper stops arriving at my doorstep in August.

Advanced with a purple bracelet on her right wrist

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