Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2002 / 8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

Bad hat day | In the middle of the school year, John Maurer's special education class was moved from Banning High School to a school for troubled students, then shipped back to the old high school.

Maurer was assigned to clerical work for the remainder of the school year, then transferred to a middle school. His old class was moved again. 

Why? Because the veteran teacher defied the new principal's hat policy. Here's the Los Angeles Times

BANNING -- He swept into the desert a decade ago like Patch Adams on a renaissance kick. Next thing this Riverside County community knew, Bach and Beethoven were booming from John Maurer's special education classroom. There were Shakespeare performances, even a "Sonnet of the Day" club, and Maurer's disabled students were taking part right along with the rest of the school. To hear their parents tell it, life will never be easy for Maurer's students--but it sure was better. 

And then, one day last spring, Maurer wore a hat to school, the wrong kind of hat ... 

The children, meanwhile, may be affected more than anyone. Not only have they been separated from their teacher, but they've been forced to change schools at least three times. Some of their parents say they now have to ride buses that take three hours, round trip, each day. 

Maurer wore a beige hat to protect himself from the sun during outdoor activities. The principal's rule dictates hats must be white, black, green or yellow. 


Grade inflation on Britain's A-level tests -- coupled with a grading scandal -- have pushed the British to look for a new way to decide who's qualified for top universities, writes Stanley Kurtz in the >National Review. The Brits are thinking of using the SATs to find high-potential students in low-performing schools. 

In Britain, the issue tends to be class rather than race but the problem is the same: Children of the affluent and educated get better schooling, do better on tests and win more places in elite universities. Blogger Natalie Solent reports that top universities are establishing quotas to boost the number of students from state (public) schools and limit places for private school graduates. 

The current version of the SAT, which is a test of verbal and mathematical aptitude, is the one being considered -- not the new SAT, which is more of an achievement test. Kurtz writes: 

It is extraordinary to see The London Times praising the American SAT for simultaneously safeguarding standards and expanding opportunity. The Times, for example, cites a study in which, of 630 teens from a poorly performing British school, only one received an A-level grade high enough to secure entrance to Oxford or Cambridge. Yet, of those same 630 students, thirty received aptitude test scores that would have gotten them into a top American university. 

In other words, The London Times has discovered what Americans used to know -- that the SAT test actually benefits "diamonds in the rough," students of high potential from poor schools. Those students may not have gotten the kind of education that allows them to excel on achievement tests, but they do have the smarts to succeed if given a chance. 

Kurtz believes an achievement test is more likely to be manipulated and dumbed down than an aptitude test. But that's because an achievement test is teachable. Hard-working students can learn the material, even if they have no aptitude for it. 

Actually, this hits deep for me. My sister is one year older, and people often thought we were twins, even identical twins, when we were children. For years I worked like hell to catch up with her. I wanted to skip a grade and be in the same class in school, but they never skipped anyone -- except my sister. I'd thought she was better than me at everything because she was older. Finally, I realized that she wasn't just older. She was smarter. 

In my teens, Avis adopted a new motto: "We're number two. We try harder." My sister, father and mother independently asked if I'd heard it. I had. I'd already recognized that I was Avis. 

Trying harder has worked well for me. As it turns out, very few people in the world are as smart as my sister. I'm smart enough for most purposes. But I'm biased against aptitude and in favor of achievement. 

My daughter, Allison, has been working as an SAT tutor, preparing students for the verbal test, which still has analogies designed to measure aptitude. Her smartest students are also her hardest working students. Her worst student appears to be a victim of self-esteem: The girl feels good about her vocabulary knowledge so she has no need to learn the actual meanings of the words. She just makes up definitions, always wrong. 

"She's creative," Allison said, with a snarl. 

After a summer working with students from wealthy families, Allison has volunteered to provide free SAT tutoring to disadvantaged students. Perhaps she can help a rough diamond approach the test with confidence. 


In 2001, Mississippi students could qualify as National Merit semi-finalists with a 200 PSAT score; it took a 220 to qualify in Maryland. The system is designed to favor students from low-achieving states, writes Jay Mathews of the Washington Post


Less than a third of New York City students pass their English and math exams, reports the New York Post. But 95 percent are passed on to the next grade. 

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.

10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2002, Joanne Jacobs