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Differing points of view are beneficial

The results of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math and reading at grades four and eight were released on Tuesday, Sept. 25.

The NAEP test, serving as the "Nation's Report Card," informs the public about the academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the U.S.

The reading and math tests are considered the country's best measure of how states compare on student achievement. They are given every two years to a sampling of fourth-graders and eighth-graders in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

On that day, both metro daily newspapers reported this news on their Web sites and then in their newspapers on the following day.

The interesting thing for me was, even though the test results were the same, the headlines sounded very differently and sent out a different message signal.

One headline was "Minnesota test scores drop in rankings," while another Web site read "Minnesota students score among top in U.S."

Minnesota fourth grade scores were the 12th-highest in the nation. Eighth-grade scores ranked seventh. In 2005, both groups' scores tied for fourth. In math, fourth grade scores were fifth-highest in the nation; eighth-graders ranked second. In 2005, both groups' scores were second-highest.

The second paper's article began with a statement to provide a "national perspective for all those policy-makers worried that Minnesota students aren't getting enough math."

"For several years, Minnesota policy-makers, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Education commissioner Alice Seagren have worried that Minnesota students aren't keeping pace with the rest of the world in such areas as math, science, engineering and technology."

This article conveyed to me that Minnesota is doing great. We are near the top and well above average in the nation. There is no reason to worry about our school and student performance. There is no need for more money to improve math and science and there is no need for tougher math and science requirements.

After I read the article, I wrote this letter to the editor:

"If you look at the NAEP test scores from the 'national perspective' and are satisfied that 'Minnesota kids score near top,' Minnesotans can now rest on your laurels. But we live in a global environment and we can't affort to look at things just from the 'national perspective.'

"We have to open our mind, broaden our horizon and see things from the 'international perspective.' Otherwise America won't be the number one superpower for very long."

Findings from international achievement surveys show that American students achieve poorly compared to those in other economically advanced countries.

Today's competitive world economy requires that students in the United States receive education that is at least as rigorous as those received by their counterparts in other countries.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Education commissioner Alice Seagren do have a reason to worry "that Minnesota students aren't keeping pace with the rest of the world in such areas as math, science, engineering and technology."

I know some people will not agree with what I say on this issue.

I found that out through a previous column on longer school years. In that column, I advocated for more school days. That column generated more feedbacks from readers than any other column I wrote so far. It was the first time I heard from people who have different opinions.

I really appreciate everyone who writes to me, whether one agrees or disagrees with me. Readers' responses tell me what they like or don't like, makes me think what's important to them and shows me different opinions and perspectives.

After reading letters from parents, I can better understand the stress, struggles and frustration some families have to go through, because their kids don't like school or certain subjects, therefore they don't like to have longer school year and more school work.

I can also see the different perspective through parents who prefer longer summer break because for them learning doesn't just happen in school classrooms. I agree that learning comes also from experience.

However, I still think what I asked for was not too much.

I did not ask for all-year school as some people might think. I understand kids need a summer break, especially in Minnesota where we have a very long winter. All I wished was to add a few more days to our school calendar, because Minnesota's school year is shorter than the national average.

I didn't mean students should just do math and reading all day long. With the extra learning time, more programs can be added to enrich the curriculum, such as language, art, music, etc. Isn't that good for the kids?

What I hope for is we don't easily give up when something is hard to achieve and we don't easily become content with what we have achieved.

We should be content with what we have though, but this is a different topic for another column. We can always try a little harder and do a little better.

And we can all benefit from a different perspective.