The ABCs Of Student Testing

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Judgment Day is just days away for students and schools in Washington, D.C. Next month, they will get the results of the standardized tests they completed in April and learn their fortune. Students who do not meet expectations will be forced into summer school or perhaps held back for another year of schooling in the same grade. Principals and teachers in the 20 schools with chronically low grades may be in the unemployment line if their schools’ overall scores do not rise 10% or more above 1997 levels.

The story is much the same in Virginia and Maryland. If legislators there maintain current education plans, the next generation of students in the states that border the nation’s capital will have to pass a series of tests in core subjects to graduate. And Virginia schools could lose their accreditation if 70 percent of their students do not pass the Standards of Learning exams, which were administered for the first time this spring.

In fact, educators and students across the country face similar fates under new rules of accountability being adopted by states from Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin to Texas, Kentucky and Massachusetts. The movement toward minimum-competency tests that began in the 1970s has evolved into a strident demand for results, and education leaders and elected officials have turned to high-stakes assessments that offer both rewards and penalties as the best way to gauge progress.

But do the tests accurately measure students’ knowledge? Do they encourage “teaching to the test” to the detriment of a broader education? Are the penalties for failure too harsh? Do the exams take into account the disparities in money, material and experience from one school district to the next? All of these questions, and plenty more, are at the heart of a raging debate about education testing.

A cure for ailing schools?
None of them are easy to answer, either. Asking whether standardized tests, particularly those with high stakes attached, are worthwhile “really is analogous to asking whether medicine is good or bad,” said Dan Koretz, an education researcher for RAND Corp. in Washington. “There are just too many variables.”

“[The tests] have in many cases produced results that are disappointing, as their opponents had projected,” Koretz added, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad. … Most of these programs have a mix of good and bad results, and people will argue about what that mix is.”


Japanese Immigration: The ‘Yellow Peril’

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

The issue of immigration presents one of the great paradoxes of the United States’ democratic experiment: On the one hand, we Americans boast of our heritage as a nation of “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” We erect museums and monuments like the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island in New York, where millions of our ancestors first touched U.S. soil.

On the other hand, we cry foul when those same tired, poor and huddled masses flood our borders. We accuse them of taking our jobs and robbing us of tax dollars to cover their expenses for health, education and welfare, among other things. When we perceive the onrush of immigrants as being too great and too burdensome, we demand action from our elected officials: Close the gates; slash the benefits; insist that “they” speak our language and adopt our cultural mores.

Sometimes, reason takes hold before the backlash against immigrants progresses too far, as it did in 1997 when Congress routinely softened 1996 laws that would have denied federal benefits to legal immigrants and deported some illegal aliens who were on track to become “legal.” But other times, the latent bigotry endemic in a “melting pot” nation rears its ugly head. That is what happened in May 1924, when Congress cleared a bill banning most Japanese immigration into the United States.

Emergence of the ‘yellow peril’
Back then, anti-immigrant attitudes, particularly those directed at Asians, had been festering for decades. A growing country initially had welcomed the influx of Asian laborers because they worked hard — and for little pay. But when those same Asians decided to make their homes in a new land and started farms and businesses in direct competition with established families, they became the “yellow peril” in the eyes of the majority white Europeans.

Congress made its first attempt at regulating immigration in 1875 by enacting a law prohibiting the entry of prostitutes and convicts. By 1882, though, its regulatory eye for the first time focused on a specific nation: China. Lawmakers cleared a measure that virtually eliminated Chinese immigration and placed a head tax on each immigrant. In the succeeding years, Congress increased the head tax and sought enactment of a literacy test, a proposal vetoed by three different presidents (Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson). Such a test eventually became law in 1917 over Wilson’s second veto.

The State Of Term Limits

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Term-limits backers love to talk about Tom Bordonaro these days. He is the Republican who lost a special election two months ago to now-Rep. Lois Capps (D) in California’s 22nd District, and supporters of congressional term limits credit his narrow defeat to his refusal to sign a pledge limiting himself to three terms in the House.

Capps signed the pledge, and exit polls commissioned by Term Limits America and conducted by Rasmussen Research, a North Carolina polling firm, indicated that 21% of the voters considered the candidates’ views on term limits before casting their ballots. Sixty-four percent of those voted for Capps, and 32 percent backed Bordonaro. The race was a virtual dead heat among voters who did not consider term limits; those who support them helped boost Capps to her 53 percent to 45 percent victory, the poll concluded.

Two takes on term limits
Paul Jacobs, the executive director of U.S. Term Limits, recalls the victory and touts it as a strong sign that the term-limits movement “is alive and well.” And Paul Farago, the vice president of Americans for Limited Terms (ALT), points to the decision of Oregon Republican Molly Bordonaro, the wife of Tom Bordonaro’s cousin, to sign a term-limits pledge in her current 2nd District House race as evidence of a still-viable movement to cap the tenure of federal lawmakers.

If you ask League of Women Voters lobbyist Dave Anstaett, though, tales like those of the two Bordonaros only prove how desperate term-limits advocates have become. They must rely on a voluntary candidate pledge, he said, because Congress and the courts have rebuffed them repeatedly at the federal level.

“I don’t know what other choice the term-limits people have,” Anstaett said, “and I don’t envy them that choice. … Term limits in many ways is now a solution in search of a problem.”

Four years ago, the movement to limit the terms of lawmakers at all levels of government seemed unstoppable. Nearly two dozen states had passed various laws to limit congressional terms, and the newly crowned Republican House majority had chosen term limits as one of their top legislative priorities, forcing the issue to a floor vote for the first time in the nation’s history.