A brilliant letter from a brilliant child in DC's public schools.
Diane Ravitch's blog
A site to discuss better education for all
A Datapoint Writes a Letter to Arne Duncan
September 11, 2013 //
Almost a year ago, I posted a letter from a sixth-grade
student in the DC public schools who wrote about herself as a data
point. She identified herself as Noa Rosinplotz. The letter was so
articulate that many readers were certain that it was not written
by a child. In time, I received letters from well-known
journalists, including her mother, attesting to the fact that Noa
exists and that she really was only 12. Now Noa is in seventh
grade, and she shared this letter.
You might want to visit her
Noa speaks for a generation of data points:
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 faired 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 café 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. Sincerely, Advanced with a purple bracelet on her right
Follow her at Datapoints, Inc. on Facebook.