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Stop the fixation on standardized test scores | READER COMMENTARY

Students in an SAT preparation course in New York, New York. File. (Yana Paskova/The New York Times)
Students in an SAT preparation course in New York, New York. File. (Yana Paskova/The New York Times) (YANA PASKOVA / NYT)

The cry that children must be tested so we can know how far behind they are raises a question: Behind what (”Standardized testing in Maryland schools can wait,” Feb. 24)? They know what they know and don’t know what they don’t know, and which of us can claim more? Should those of us who are older be tested on all the things we used to know? I can still spell stoichiometry, but not do it, and the last time I tried to do integration by parts I was making the same fool mistakes I had made over 40 years before, choosing the wrong parts and getting myself into deeper difficulties. Since I have no present need of calculus, I prudently put it aside. There are other things I would rather learn or relearn.

The delusion that children have to learn certain things at certain ages is probably one of the chief sources of trouble in our educational system and is too often reinforced by misuse of statistics. Thus, we see an infectious disease specialist citing a study that purports to show a poor reader in first grade has a 90% chance of remaining a poor reader, apparently failing to grasp that the statistic simply shows what has happened in our educational system during some period in the past and is merely descriptive of the system, not of the inherent capacity of children.

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In Finland, which has one of the best-regarded educational systems in the world, children do not even begin formal instruction until age 7. For heaven’s sake, stop fussing about the children as if they were poorly produced widgets on an assembly line! Love their uniqueness and help them cultivate it in the ways that will make them best able to engage constructively with others now and when they are grown. They are fully capable of learning what they need to learn and will do so more easily if their teachers are actually allowed to teach.

Katharine W. Rylaarsdam, Baltimore

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