More tests won't help kids learn to readLast week...


September 21, 1997

More tests won't help kids learn to read

Last week, President Clinton visited a Maryland elementary school as part of his drive to create national individualized tests to measure whether fourth-graders can read well. This is another case of education policies that are well-intended, but poorly thought out.

Using existing national test data, we know that many students, particularly those from educationally disadvantaged homes, are not learning to read well enough.

Creating another test, even an individualized one, won't change much. To really address the problem, we need to improve reading teaching in the classroom.

Scientific research indicates that all children need a strong oral language background. They need to understand the sound structure of language. They need clear instruction on how to decode the words on the page and how the letters on the page represent oral language. They need to practice the decoding skills they are being taught with good books. And they need lots of practice in reading to bolster their comprehension.

Unfortunately, many teachers are unaware of how to implement these scientific principles, and most of today's reading programs avoid clear instruction in favor of a fuzzy "rich language experience."

Of course we need good reading assessments to test whether children are gaining the understanding of English and decoding skills they need. But these assessments are needed as ongoing educational tools during kindergarten and first grade.

Giving a student a test in fourth grade is simply too late to avoid reading failure and gives the child a bad taste for school.

We already have national samplings which can let states see how they rank against one another. And parents whose children cannot read are already concerned and want change.

Let's not wait another two years for new test scores to decide that we want to change the way reading is taught.

We need to ensure that every teacher and parent and caregiver understands the established principles of reading and how to XTC turn that knowledge into meaningful preschool preparation and effective classroom teaching.

Hans Meeder


Growth curb plan shouldn't be dismissed

It is disappointing that Joe Rutter, Howard County's director of planning, is opposed to Councilman C. Vernon Gray's proposal to better control residential growth in the county.

Mr. Rutter says he supports the current structure because it is predictable. Mr. Rutter and the developers may be happy with the current system, but the rest of the county is frustrated with predictable overcrowding, traffic congestion and escalating costs. Mr. Gray's proposal is a serious effort to slow the deterioration of the quality of life in the county and should not be summarily dismissed by the development community.

Robert G. Bolton

Ellicott City

Diana left us at her peak

I recently sent a letter to you castigating press apologists for the raptors who harassed Princess Diana. I would now like to touch upon a different aspect of this world-class story that I have not seen mentioned elsewhere.

Those who love literature will doubtless recall A. E. Housman's "To An Athlete Dying Young," a thrust of which was that there is something to be said for leaving this earth at the peak of your fame and accomplishments. While no one can say what the future might have held, it is clear from the outpouring of grief and affection that she could probably not have been held in higher esteem by the English people.

While the grief suffered by her children is immense, they will always be able to look back upon a mother who was sent off with a level of love and admiration closer to that accorded a saint (Earl Spencer's comments notwithstanding) than a mere mortal. They are also spared the stresses that would have been associated with a divided household (again Earl Spencer not withstanding) and the press attention to every detail of their mother's avowed intention to leave England and of her remarriage or lack thereof.

It is sad and ironic to reflect that Diana ended up doing all that could have been asked of her by the establishment: She produced two male heirs and then left the scene with grandeur.

John S. Sieg

Ellicott City

Gratitude for Cardin staying in Congress?

Zeke Orlinsky, publisher of Maryland weekly newspapers, advises us in the Columbia Flier of Sept. 4 that Ben Cardin's decision not to run for governor was a good one. He informs us that we will still have Ben Cardin in Congress (representing the 3rd District), for which we should be grateful.

Yes, grateful for Mr. Cardin's vote for the:

Infamous George Bush "read my lips, no new taxes" bill to increase taxes in 1990.

Equally infamous "Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act," the largest tax increase legislation ever and the first to levy taxes on Social Security income.

Much-touted "Balanced Budget Bill" of 1997, which increased federal government spending in fiscal year 1997 by $100 billion over that of FY '96.

John Hamilton


Support for smoking ban good for county business

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