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LETTER: Students fail 2011 NECAP, educators blame the test

To the Editor:

The test results of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), administered to Lewiston’s grade-school children in October of last year, reveal that slightly more than half of our students failed math and only a little more than half passed reading.

This means in simple terms, and disregarding a few percentage points one way or the other, that Lewiston’s school children, on average, have a coin-toss chance of being able to read, write or calculate at their grade level. These results are both a warning of a failing school system and, unfortunately, a reliable predictor of our children’s academic and economic future.

We would like to believe that these failing children can, somehow, through some kind of intervention, be saved and ultimately become successful adults, but this is not the reality. The failures, once started, continue from grade to grade and only become worse. This is so ingrained and predictive that it is said penologists can accurately predict how many prison cells will be required based solely upon third-grade failures.

We react to warnings based upon our experience and our understanding and for all things educational we usually defer to the professional educators. But we must recognize that the educators, who are responsible, knowledgeable and who should be warning us of the danger, may not be objective and are instead the first to deny the significance of this student failure.

Yes, they sometimes acknowledge the failure as a problem. But then they dismiss it as only one of several they are presently and successfully engaging and lead us to believe they will resolve the problem, perhaps in less time than it would take to explain. They are not unlike husbands, who in the middle of the night, try to convince frightened wives they shouldn’t be concerned about noises they hear downstairs.

Should we believe the educators—should we believe the failure is really a failure of the NECAP and that there is no reason to worry about the noises we hear downstairs? Lewiston parents, worried for their children, desperately want to believe the educators, they want to believe the NECAP test is flawed, that it doesn’t accurately predict student outcome. Oh, if only this were so!

We could be comforted if we could merely substitute the NECAP with a test our students could easily pass. Unfortunately, it would only change statistics; it wouldn’t change reality. Our students still wouldn’t be able to read, they would continue to be overwhelmed by mathematics. Changing the test would be similar to giving each “D” student an “A” grade, parents might be reassured, they might even be proud, but the children would remain illiterate and mathematically challenged.

Or should we be convinced that if we just wait a little longer everything will be resolved? I am unable to accept these explanations; I have heard them for more than a decade. The only changes we can reliably depend upon will be retired educators.

Since our educators, sometimes directly and sometimes obliquely, deride the importance of this failure, we as individuals must consider the significance and reliability of these results for ourselves. The NECAP is the testing vehicle that educators and legislators in several New England states agreed, after lengthy and sometimes reluctant deliberations, would evaluate the educational progress of public school children in grades three through eight and also allow comparisons from school to school and from state to state and, most importantly, it would also satisfy a federal requirement.

Contrary to the rhetoric deriding the NECAP, it does perform as intended: it does reveal student achievement and student failure and, very importantly, it allows comparisons from school to school. The value of this is that it allows me, personally, to validly compare schools my great-grandchildren attend in Wales, Waterville and Millinocket within our state and also in the distant Montgomery Center School in Vermont.

In Montgomery Center School, where they have higher expectations and where 53% of the students receive free or reduced lunches, 90% of the school children score proficient in reading and in math as revealed by the same NECAP test our local educators tell us is flawed.

Dick Sabine


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