// Better testing, not none. //

My response to NYTimes SchoolBook Parent Letter: “Dear Governor: Lobby to Save a Love of Reading” in which two parents suggest boycotting tests to protect and encourage a love of reading. 

I’m no fan of pointless and poorly constructed standardized testing. It is ridiculous that we accept standardized tests that do a mediocre, at best, job of measuring what is important. But we need tests. This isn’t 1912 - this 2012 and we are sticking our heads in the sand if we ignore the fact that we have come a long way (and have a long way to go) in terms of figuring out how to use data to make our lives better. 

The authors fail to appreciate that Fountas and Pinnell allows them and, more importantly, their children’s teachers a way to track and monitor each students progress in reading. Fountas and Pinnell is not ‘standardized testing’, it is systematic way to ensure that every child is learning the basics and to catch them if they begin to struggle. We need that for every child - particularly for those children whose parents either don’t have the ability or the time to monitor their children’s progress themselves. 

Why? Because you aren’t going to learn to love reading if you never learn to read.

Yes, schools should be concerned with getting children to learn to love reading, but first they need to be successful at getting all children PROFICIENT in reading. Right now, they are struggling to do that. Boring texts don’t help, but they don’t make the difference between learning to read or not. If a student doesn’t understand half the words on the page and doesn’t have strategies for figuring out what those words mean, he isn’t going to know enough to have an opinion on what is interesting or not. And have you seen what children and many adults love to read in their free time? It isn’t Tolstoy. Sure it would be great if all teachers customized each year’s curriculum for each student with high quality reading that each student will love, but that isn’t feasible. 

Why? Because we don’t have the data or the systems in place. A regular public school teacher would need close to super human powers to create an adaptive reading curriculum customized for each student in their class of 25-30 students (more if it is middle school) - while still staying on top of regular lesson planning and keeping track of student progress. 

If we want to give students a great education - literacy plus a love of learning - we need to give our teachers the super human powers to do so. This means better data and better testing. There are many promising programs and tests (School of One and NWEA to name just two), but those programs and tests still have a lot of growing to do. That growing will happen much faster if there is additional pressure from parents. With good data and smart systems, teachers may finally gain the super human powers to get kids to read AND to love learning. 

It is a shame that the authors of the SchoolBook post, who appear to be well-educated, were so intellectually lazy that they were willing to jump to the conclusion that the solution to our larger education woes is as simple as a boycott of testing. Ron Paul-esque policies are quick and easy but we all know that nothing is quick and easy, with the exception, perhaps, of political grandstanding.

If these parents truly wanted to see a better school system for their children, their children’s classmates and all NYC children (poor and not-poor), they would ask parents and citizens alike to join them in demanding BETTER data and BETTER standardized testing.