Are Kids in Paris, Texas, "Special?"

Certain amount of talk going around about the superintendent of schools in Paris, Texas, who shot off an angry public letter to parents attacking the validity of statewide student achievement tests. Apparently Paris ISD Superintendent Paul Jones has been getting viral attaboys from test-haters the world over after telling Paris parents that Texas state tests suck.

"These assessments do not reflect the quality of teaching or learning in our classrooms," he said in a public letter on the school district webpage. "Instead, they reflect a punitive, one size fits all test-driven system."

Not to be a pissant or anything, but I had to correct Jones' punctuation in order to get his quote down on the page so that it could be read by English speakers. Or by anybody.

Is that significant? Yeah. To me. If I were a superintendent of schools and I was going public with a big slam on academic achievement testing, I would want to be dead certain nothing I had written could cause me to be marked down a grade on my letter, even if I had to get an English teacher to proof it for me.

In fact, forget it. I'll just go ahead and be a pissant. The resentful mentality expressed in Jones' letter -- he refers sneeringly to "a testing company headquartered in London, England" -- is exactly what his graduates least need to hear. He goes on and on about how Paris kids are " ...much more than a once-a-year pencil and bubble sheet test." Bullshit. He needs to be telling them the opposite.

This guy needs to make sure his students know that if they ever want to step one foot outside of Paris, no one out there will ever see or care anything about what they are or who they are until after they show they can ace that pencil and bubble test. The test score comes first. Then you can show your inner qualities. That's the world as it is, man.

He's giving them a snake oil pitch about how nobody else can tell us what we are or what we can do. That's a lie. Everybody can tell you and will tell you, mainly to get lost if you have lousy test scores.

As soon as those kids step out of Paris, the first proof they will have to make of themselves is going to be that pencil and bubble test he's trying so hard to put down. Does he honestly believe the world is going to turn off its cell phone and settle back in the chair to listen to some long narrative about their hometown?

You don't get in the front door to have the conversation in the first place if you have lousy test scores. The main purpose of the tests is not to find geniuses. It's to weed out the ones to whom nobody wants to waste time talking.

Here is what the parents of Paris need to ask Mr. Jones. They need to ask: "If our kids are so damn special and wonderful, how come you can't teach them how to get good scores on the statewide tests? Isn't it a little suspect that you, the dude most responsible for teaching them, are the one trying to tell us not to pay any attention to the results of tests designed to measure the outcome of your own efforts?"

This guy perfectly expresses the thinking of the whole test-hating, anti-Core Curriculum mentality all over Texas and around the country right now. It's the lowest form of enabling demagoguery, selling people a self-serving set of excuses for failure in order to cover the asses of the status quosters.

We here in Dallas are not in a position to look down our noses at Paris, by the way. In the 2011-2012 state college-readiness rankings for graduates, PISD beat DISD by a full 10 percentage points, 65 percent to 55 percent. PISD was ahead of DISD in every ethnic category, especially among Hispanic graduates. Test question: What does it say about us that our own district does a worse job than Paris at preparing graduates for the job market in Dallas? Answer: nothing good.

And we have lots of the same mentality here about testing. Paris doesn't have a monopoly. But as long as the superintendent in Paris was taking his attaboys and his victory lap anyway for standing up to the testers, I wanted to offer him my own two bits worth.

Those test writers are the best friends your kids ever had, buddy. You are not. Lose the 'tude.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze