OpEd in the Los Angeles Newspaper Group By Richard J. Riordan, David A. Lehrer and Joe R. Hicks
February 8, 2009 -- Los Angeles is often referred to as the "entertainment capital of the world," with ample justification. The studios, stars and multimedia companies located here are truly the source of much of the world's diversions.
Last week, however, the city was entertaining the world for a different, and more troubling, reason: incompetent governance.
In a common sense-defying display of our local leaders' penchant to entertain, the Los Angeles Unified School District's union, United Teachers Los Angeles, announced that its teachers would "boycott a series of unnecessary assessment tests" that would result in "the loss of valuable instruction time spent prepping students for the tests instead of teaching."
The boycott threat was buttressed by a protest at Emerson Middle School by teachers who stood with signs offering the stark choice between "Teachers or Tests."
For Angelenos unfamiliar with the "periodic assessment" tests that the UTLA leadership was referring to, there might appear to be some reason and logic to the UTLA refusal to "teach to the test." No self-respecting teacher wants to spend their day prepping kids for tests that don't relate to the curricular information and creative thinking they are charged with imparting.
In reality, the "periodic assessment" tests are at the heart of the curriculum that these teachers are directed to teach. Its goal is "to give teachers insight into what students need to learn while there remains time in the current school year to adjust instruction."
The tests are designed to provide individualized data to the teachers, within 48 hours of having been administered, of what each student has mastered in English, language arts, math, science and social studies - core academic subjects.
The tests show what has been learned and what remains to be learned. A statistical analysis by the LAUSD has found that the assessments "contribute to higher student achievement."
The district's study found that, especially at the elementary level, students who take the full battery of four assessment tests during the course of the year are "much more likely to score proficient or advanced on the California Standards Test than similar students that either do not take the tests or take them only once or twice."
Even without the district's data, it is hard to fathom how a teacher would not want information that offers them insight as to how well their students are doing in learning the skills and concepts that are required by the end of the academic year. In most settings, professionals want more information to help them do their jobs, not less.
UTLA has dismissed the tests because they produce "junk data" which "do little to help them evaluate student progress."
UTLA head A.J. Duffy's assertion that "we don't need district-mandated tests to know whether the students we work with every day are learning" strains credulity. The studies on the impact of the assessment tests show otherwise - they make a difference in student achievement.
There simply isn't a rational reason, if students and what they learn is one's main concern, for not administering the tests and utilizing the results. Only the fear of "accountability" could logically explain the obstinate position of UTLA on this issue.
The country must be entertained - teachers who decline information about how their students are doing and what they need to learn couch their refusal as if it were good for students. Hollywood couldn't have written this script. Unfortunately, it's a scary one.
Richard J. Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles, is the chairman, David A. Lehrer the president and Joe R. Hicks the vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (cai-la.org), a human-relations organization based in Los Angeles.