Readers Write (April 25): Student testing, Obama's foreign policy, alcohol tax, university salaries

  • Updated: April 24, 2013 - 7:36 PM

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Let’s drop the either/or nature of the debate

Both April 24 commentaries on testing were right, and both wrong. The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, as Gary Marvin Davison showed, are valid; preparing for them should reinforce instruction, not distract from it. But the MCAs are good for school accountability, not so much for student diagnosis. They tell educators how to tweak the curriculum next year, not how to help this student now.

Katherine Koch-Laveen was right that testing is not free but wrong when she said there is no evidence that it improves achievement. Her analogy with feeding hogs was cute but irrelevant. Hogs don’t eat because they will be weighed or because it is in their long-term best interest to gain weight. Students will work if they know something is on the test and if they believe it is in their best interest. Feedback from tests, even the MCAs, helps students know where they are.

Labeling testing a failure because it hasn’t closed the achievement gap is shooting the messenger. Teacher-built, classroom-based assessments are valuable, but can’t deliver the message about the gap. And adding a couple more days of instruction at the expense of formal testing implies that those few days will do something the other 175 days failed to do.

To quote Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” Both writers will agree with me and Yeats on that.

Ronald Mead, Minneapolis

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From this vantage point, Obama has done well

An April 24 letter concludes that President Obama is too “appeasing.” Fascinating. Obama did end an illegal, costly and pointless war in Iraq. But this just seems smart, not appeasing. He also beefed up the war in Afghanistan, previously underresourced by his predecessor — hardly the act of an appeaser.

He violated Pakistani sovereignty to kill Bin Laden and has killed Al-Qaida operatives with drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Africa. He managed to support the liberation of Libya without committing ground troops but, of course, is faulted for a “cover-up” in Benghazi for what was an obvious and atypical case of incompetence on the part of his State Department.

He’s kept us off the ground in Syria for myriad good reasons, beginning with the absence of a clearly defined ally with whom to work.

In my view, Obama has been selectively aggressive but judicious in his intervention. Would the letter writer have us on the ground in Libya, Syria, Pakistan and maybe even Iran to stop the evil of Islamic terrorism? If so, Obama has my vote!

John F. Hetterick, Plymouth

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