This here ain't a "no spin zone!"


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  "We teach our children to always tell us the truth. We can deal with it! No matter how bad things get."

ecently while attending a meeting at a school function, I was seated next to a gentlemen who blurted out, "Schools always put a positive spin on everything." I have noticed some confirming evidence of this. While it is not exclusively school territory where things are spun, there is a certain distaste going around regarding putting a shiny polish on all school news.

Oh, I like accentuating the positive! I am wild about looking for the good in people. And I like to put my best foot forward. But I also like straight talk and clear communication when it comes to schools and students. Don't you?

We teach our children to always tell us the truth. We can deal with it! No matter how bad things get. Please! We want to know so we can take appropriate action.

Certain kinds of gleaming positive statements, instead of making you feel reassured, seem to have the opposite affect. You know what I'm talking about! Comments like, "The schools are doing great," or "Everything's absolutely wonderful!" and "Test scores are going up!"

Let's consider the tendency to emphasize the positive aspects of schools and the people who populate them. Here are some short stories to illustrate the spin.

Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a teacher who requested special education services for one of her pupils. The student's most recent report card was a "good news" masterpiece. The student had all A's and B's. She received the teacher's thumbs up for good behavior and excellent effort.

What was the problem? Why was special education requested? A huge discrepancy existed between the information being reported to the parent and the teacher's actual opinion of the student. This is positive spin run amuck.

I spoke with this teacher. She said the grades were a reward for the tremendous effort the student was making, although the work produced was far below that of the student's peers. Is this the kind of report card we want for our children? Bogus A's and B's? Imagine what the parents thought when their child was considered for special remedial assistance!

Of course, reports cards should reflect an honest evaluation of student achievement. Effort should be credited as such. Being something of an insider myself, I have often thought that good grades reflect positively not only on the student but also on the teacher.

Now, in California, several major and - dare I say - very positive changes have occurred in recent years affecting how students and schools are evaluated. Grades given by teachers are supplemented by standardized test scores. Students are now evaluated extensively and objectively via standardized tests, the scores of which are reported to all parents. Schools are judged and rewarded financially as a result of student performance on those tests.

That's the good news! Call it spin if you will. But let's not stop here.

Will these tests remedy the problem of inaccurate judgments of a student's performance? To a certain degree, yes, but only if students are tested according to the instructions that accompany the tests.

When huge money rewards are paid to schools and teachers whose students show test score improvement, how will we be assured that all students are being tested under the same conditions? That no test score sheet is ever altered. That no time limit is ignored. Maybe there exists a system for verifying the authenticity of every score sheet all over California, such that cheating doesn't rear its ugly head.

I've heard nothing in the media nor in any professional journal that speaks to the issue of seriously monitoring the testing program. Perhaps this is because it is top secret!

Here I must mention that I believe most teachers want students to learn because it is a joyful and rewarding experience when they do. It is the love of learning and seeing the child develop into a real thinker that motivates the teacher, not the lure of financial rewards. Anyone who lives with or loves a teacher knows that ecstatic look a teacher gets when he or she talks about an educational breakthrough that brightened the day in class. You understand that this is not just spin, if you know a real teacher!

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist and a PVUSD Board Trustee. Her opinions are not necessarily those of the school board or of the Register-Pajaronian.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, 10/20/01. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2001