The Wednesday Journal editorial, “Believe in our students” [Viewpoints, Sept. 21], reflects an inappropriate political agenda. A defense of OPRF’s de-tracking — sterilely labelled “freshman curriculum restructuring” — the editorial implicitly acknowledges it will lower scores on national standardized tests (sour-graped as “suspect anyhow”).

WJ asks us to ignore tests and instead measure success in “the self-confidence and resilience of Black and Brown students.” But where to find a barometer for resilience or self-confidence? We cannot because these are not objective measures. After proposing such subjective evaluation criteria, WJ claims “we all need to be on board for the long haul.” I disagree.

As a former OPRF District 200 school board president who consistently championed efforts to improve education for all students, and particularly for disadvantaged groups, I never supported de-tracking. The data didn’t support it. De-tracking was arrogant virtue signaling, with little evidence supporting it as a solution to disparate achievement. Data indicated that de-tracking had failed in other districts, most notably nearby in Evanston. OPRF adopted it anyhow. Now a board member has appropriately requested a status report. I agree. If this experiment is to continue, a positive impact must be demonstrated with objective data.

I applaud Fred Arkin, the only board member demanding data to evaluate this effort. Arkin requested to see facts that demonstrate that de-tracking improves student learning, or at least that it doesn’t harm it. Disparate outcomes on national standardized tests were key evidence that justified de-tracking in the first place. Test scores cannot be discarded as factors simply because they don’t support measures the board chose to adopt. These or other objective factors must indicate that de-tracking does not diminish learning, or we should abandon it.

Our communities must help all students succeed, not make some appear to succeed, or make them feel like they are succeeding. Feelings aren’t facts. We need objective measures of student performance, including national standardized test scores measuring college readiness, and numbers of National Merit Scholarship semifinalists (three this year, down from 22 just six years ago).

Confidence and resilience, which this paper would rely upon, are not the primary goal of education. The goal of education is learning.

John Phelan
River Forest

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