When it comes to testing, black caucus fails students

September 14, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

MR. GOLDEN, Mrs. Tilly, Mrs. Holmes, Mr. Scott -- if you are still living in Baltimore and are still alive and about to read this column, please don't. You're probably all retired now and don't need the annoyance.

Bob Draine, I hear you're the acting principal at Patterson High School. You don't need to read this either. Just toss this section of the paper into the nearest wastebasket.

I was one of your many students at Harlem Park Junior High School from 1963 to 1966. You may remember me as the one with the largest forehead. And I remember some things about you. What I most remember is that none of you, not once, said or did anything to cause me to doubt my abilities. In fact, you did quite the opposite. You always challenged me and my classmates to perform to the maximum of our abilities.

That's why I don't want you to read the press release below. It comes from a bunch of wimps known as the Congressional Black Caucus, a group that's supposed to represent the best among African-Americans. The CBC news release addresses President Bill Clinton's call for a national test that measures reading skills for fourth-graders and math skills for eighth-graders. The CBC is opposed to it, and judging from the tone of the release, it sounds like they're subtly urging black children to chump out early. I'll reprint most of it. Please, dear mentors, if you have read this far, read no further. What follows is downright heartbreaking.

"The Congressional Black Caucus is opposed to national educational testing standards and supports the Goodling Amendment to deny funding.

" 'Widespread misuse of educational testing has disproportionately penalized poor and minority children,' said Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. 'The CBC cannot support any testing that may further stigmatize our children and force them into lower educational tracks.' "

Did everybody get that? Let's not have black children take this test, the CBC is saying, because they're guaranteed to fail it. Somebody proposes a national test of educational skills, and this bunch of wusses goes reflexively into Oppressed Negro Mode. What a change 30 years makes. At Harlem Park, all the teachers above urged my classmates and me to attend the high schools that had the highest academic requirements. They made it clear to us that we could cut it. There's more to the CBC release. Much of it shows why they should stay out of the education business.

"The administration recently proposed national testing standards for fourth and eighth graders. The Hispanic Caucus and civil rights organizations voiced their opposition to the national testing proposal this past July.

"Congresswoman Waters added, 'This National Test proposal provides no enforceable safeguards against the misuse of test results that could harm our children. Tracking, retention in grade, and ability grouping have been used in the past to limit the future opportunities of millions of students nationwide."

There's one good thing about this release: It graphically shows the differences between black liberals and black conservatives.

Black liberals insist on linking being black with being poor ("testing has disproportionately penalized poor and minority children") and figure that if students haven't mastered the work for a particular grade, they shouldn't be held back. They should be promoted from grade to grade, eventually graduating from high schools with reading and math schools way below grade level.

Black conservatives believe black students can achieve once they have been challenged to do so. We believe that a high school diploma should represent what it advertises: that the student holding one has reading and math skills on the 12th-grade level. Anything less is fraudulent.

" ... there is absolutely nothing in this proposal that ensures protection of the civil rights of students. This past July, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a case in North Carolina challenging this kind of misuse of testing to deny children educational advancement."

Those of you who believe educational advancement is achieved precisely by testing must be pounding your heads against the walls by now. How, other than by testing, do we measure a student's academic skills? I'm tempted to suggest, strictly in jest, that the CBC propose we promote students by the lottery method: Have each grade written on a slip of paper and put into a hat. Whichever one the student pulls out, that's what he or she gets. There's only one thing that stops me from making this proposal, even in jest.

Those dolts in the CBC might actually take me up on it.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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