The Times covers Texas state tests: According to the New York Times, Kristen Hernandez, 9 years old, is a delightful fourth-grader in Mesquite, Texas, a "working-class suburb" of Dallas.
With that in mind, we'll ask you to imagine two states of affairs:
First, imagine that a dozen people were asked to measure Kristen's height or weight. We're talking about a pair of fairly straightforward tasks. Presumably, most of the people would report pretty much the same results.
Now, imagine a different sort of assignment. Suppose we asked a dozen people to assess Kristen's "reading level."
We're now talking about a fairly nebulous concept. In part for that reason, we don't have a single, simple, straightforward way to measure a child's "reading level."
Weight is easy; "reading level" is hard. Surely everyone can understand that. There's nothing confusing about this matter—unless you're reading the New York Times.
Yesterday, the Times ran a 1627-word report about Kristen Hernandez's reading level. Accompanied by four photographs, the lengthy report consumed the entire first page of yesterday's hard-copy "National" section.
In essence, the Times report came down to this:
On one measure of Kristen's reading achievement last spring, she was rated as merely "approaches grade level." On some poorly explained second measure, her reading achievement was rated as being "on grade level."
Let's repeat. One measure said Kristen was on grade level. A second measure said she merely approached grade level.
We can think of no conceivable reason to be surprised or discombobulated by this wholly unremarkable state of affairs. That said, the Times built a lengthy report around the idea that those dueling assessments represent a perplexing problem. Along the way, the Times even managed to be surprised by this:
GOLDSTEIN AND FERNANDEZ (3/5/19): Just a few questions on the test can make a big difference for a student. One of Kristen's schoolmates, Jacob Weempe, missed the cutoff between ''approaches grade level'' and ''meets standards'' by a single question. When his mother, Joanne Nagahiro, a medical assistant, found out his score, she signed him up for private tutoring. It cost $200 per month and, along with Saturday classes at the school, took up much of Jacob's weekend for a time.If Jacob had answered one more question correctly, he would have been rated as "meets standards." But as it was, he was rated only as "approaches standards."
Almost surely, the fact that he missed the cutoff by one answer is a matter of complete and total insignificance. Apparently, no one told his mother this. Then too, the New York Times seemed to think that this pseudo-conundrum represents a problem with the Texas state tests. Just to be honest, it almost surely doesn't, except to the extent that people fail to understand and explain the inevitable lack of precision in measures of this type.
According to the Times report, "there are four categories of performance" on the Texas state tests. The lowest category is ''did not meet grade level,'' which means the student in question failed the test.
Our view? Yesterday's full-page report "did not meet basic journalistic proficiency level." But so it goes, again and again, when the Times makes one of its periodic attempts to report on the public schools.
Subscribers believe that the New York Times is a very smart newspaper. The paper's branding pushes that shaky idea.
Yesterday's report was basically sad. We're simply trying to tell you the truth about the current state of the culture at its highest journalistic end.
Final question, for extra credit:
Just how sharp are we "rational animals?" We'll let you decide!