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Focus on early childhood has been a plea for decades

September 20, 2011

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DR. GREGORY Hagan is right on target when he calls for a focus on early childhood education (“MCAS rut points to need for early education,’’ Letters, Sept. 15) as the way to improve MCAS scores. In 1980, just before Ronald Reagan was elected president, the presidents of the five-college consortium (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts) held a press conference to spell out what they thought was the most important educational action the next president could take, no matter who was elected.

At the time I was The Boston Globe’s correspondent covering Western Massachusetts, and I speculated on what they might say as I drove to Amherst.

I decided new science labs were probably the most expensive and maybe most necessary things for colleges, but the five presidents said the most important educational item on the new US president’s agenda should be universal early childhood education.

It’s 31 years later, and just last week at a meeting in the Springfield School Department’s offices the need for universal early childhood education was raised again. This time it was in the context of helping the many youngsters in schools in Springfield and across the Commonwealth whose native language is not English.

Let’s hope the Massachusetts Legislature can act on this.

Jean Caldwell, Springfield

Language barrier
RE “US finds statewide problems in schools: Says English learners not adequately served’’ (Page A1, Sept. 17): I have an idea. Last month England passed a law that immigrants must speak English before being allowed to emigrate to England.

Let’s do the same thing.

Marjorie Generazzo, Lynnfield

Reading significance in test scores
RE “SAT reading scores sink to record low with class of 2011’’ (Page A11, Sept. 15): The article states that the most recent SAT scores are the lowest on record because of the expanding number of test takers. Historically, those who had the highest aptitudes took the SATs. As more and more people desire a college education, these new test takers affect the scores. College Board officials even pointed out that roughly 27 percent of the 1.65 million test takers last year came from a home where English was not the only language, up from 19 percent a decade ago, and that this affected the scores.

As a retired Massachusetts public schoolteacher, I can remember many painful staff meetings that I had to attend after MCAS scores were released. When the scores were lower than desired, we teachers suggested that there were a variety of possible reasons, such as curriculum, non-English homes, special needs, and socioeconomic status. One of my administrators was notorious for telling us that these reasons were excuses, and that we didn’t work hard enough with our classes. The diversity of the population, encompassing the gamut of aptitudes, was not allowed to be considered.

According to the article, Gary Phillips, chief scientist at the American Institutes of Research, cautioned against using SAT scores as a way to measure national performance. Similarly, it makes sense that MCAS scores should be used to measure the progress of individual students, but certainly not to measure an entire school’s performance. The College Board understands this, but sadly, our Massachusetts education officials do not.

Betty Ungar Lapide, Newton