To the editor:
I read the summary article regarding statewide testing of fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders with some dismay. The analysis of the comparison between inner-city and high socio-economical areas left out many factors.I teach in the ELP (Extended Learning Program) for two central city schools. One of them is a Chapter 1 school where there are a few wonderfully supportive families, a few economically advantaged families, and many struggling families dealing with a diversity of issues.
Children and teachers are wrestling not only with cultural deprivation but with stresses that the public is only vaguely aware of. Some classes have up to one-third of their students who are non-English speaking. Teachers use all their creativity to work with this handicap.
It is often the norm rather than the exception to find less than half of the students in a classroom remaining for the whole school year. Families move in and out with frustrating regularity. The SAT cannot be a measure of a school when students move into an area, take the test and then cannot be found by the time the results are back.
Many behavior problems abound as a child who experiences family fighting at home will often display this same problem at school. He will then be disciplined for "inappropriate behavior." All of the school enforcement in the world cannot make up for home environments where negativity or neglect is the rule.
I have seen career teachers who have chosen to stay and work in classrooms where discipline problems have literally scared substitute teachers away. These are not left-over teachers unable to get east-side positions, but are professionals who love the diversity found in inner city schools and remain there out of a desire to make a difference.
Only the best and most experienced teachers can survive the pressures found in at-risk schools. Many excellent teachers can be found striving to find the key to unlock the potential of these young people. Two former "Teacher of the Year" recipients teach at Washington Elementary. Another recipient continues to change lives at Backman Elementary.
Jackson students have won numerous awards, have been featured in Time magazine, passed legislation and met President Bush all because of the dedication and love of a west-side teacher. Tests do not measure the life-skills modeled and taught by these people.
It sometimes seems that eager students who are enriched by a support system that promotes their success can almost teach themselves. SAT scores measure that support system every bit as much as they measure a school's ability to deliver quality education.
The dedicated professionals who struggle to build and empower young people can be found in all areas of the city. It is important to be aware of these factors as we continually work to improve the education of Utah's children.
Sheri Sohm, teacher
Washington and Hawthorne elementary schools