One Good Turn…

If you’re a reporter or any sort of education wonk, then you’ve been aware of FairTest, the shorthand name for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. The folks at FairTest have been superb advocates, warning us of the dangers of mindless embraces of bubble tests and cheap standardized, machine-scored exams.

Fair Test

I believe we need FairTest more than ever. No Child Left Behind is still the law of the land and is likely to remain so for many months. As we move toward common standards, we need voices calling for multiple ways of evaluating schools, teachers and students. Those who believe that one score tells it all are sadly wrong, but they are also very powerful.

Sophie Sa, a friend of many years who is now FairTest’s Board Chair, reminded me that FairTest was created in 1985 “to fight against the misuses and abuses of high-stakes standardized norm-referenced tests … while promoting the use of multiple forms of authentic alternate assessments.”

I agree with Sophie that FairTest has been “the leader, the organizational glue, and the legs for individuals and groups concerned with the deleterious effects of standardized testing on students, particularly students in need; on schools and their curriculum; and on the kind of learning that emphasizes critical thinking and deep knowledge.”

Sophie and I go way back, to my own professional crisis back in 1994. I had been affiliated with a non-profit based in South Carolina. It did the books for us and managed the grants I found—for a price. That price seemed steep to us, and so I attempted to negotiate. No deal, I was told. So for our next grants I negotiated with the foundations and saw to it that the payroll-processing fee could not exceed 10%. The man in South Carolina was furious and, when one grant was delayed and our funds were short, he pulled the plug. ‘I’m closing you down,’ he announced, ‘because you don’t have enough grant funds.” ‘We have a big grant on the way, maybe two months.’ “Too bad,” he said.

I began a desperate search for the $150,000 we needed to finish two documentaries, calling anyone and everyone. Out of the blue I got a call from someone from the Panasonic Foundation named Sophie Sa. She told me that her foundation did not make grants but that she had heard about our situation. “Did I know,” she asked, “about the secret foundation?”

‘No,’ I said, ‘please tell me.’

“I can’t,” she answered, “it’s a secret.”

Long story short, a few days later I got a call from someone at the secret foundation, was invited over and walked out with a check for $150,000. I used some of that money to hire a lawyer to incorporate our own company, which we called Learning Matters.

Over the years FairTest has helped me—and others–bring balance to coverage of testing.

Now Sophie Sa has reached out to me to say that FairTest needs help. Truth is, I would help FairTest even if Sophie weren’t involved.

Last week Learning Matters began its own campaign, and we haven’t finished with that. But I am urging you to consider making a tax-deductible gift to FairTest, an organization that plays a vital role in our understanding of the business of learning.

In keeping with the spirit of the moment, here’s a multiple-choice test for you:

A) Contribute on line at
B) Send a check 15 Court Square, #820, Boston, MA 02108
C) Encourage your friends and colleagues to help
D) All of the above.


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