Strictly Secondary: The Standardized-Testing 'Enforcer' Named Capone

Patch's edu-columnist wants to scream and rail against his educational villain of the year.


Editor's note: This column is written by San Leandro High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. Its tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary.)

By Jerry Heverly

When I started writing these "essays" I told myself I should avoid anything topical. Today’s news is good for rousing the blood but the outrage of the moment is generally forgotten tomorrow.

I wanted to talk about the big issues, the ones that confuse me, rather than the hot button topics in the news where I might say something I’d later regret.

As anyone who has ever been the subject of a news article knows, journalists generally give it their best shot but often miss some of the little details that stand nearer to the "truth."

But this one time I want to violate my own rule. I want to scream. I want to condemn. I want to rail against a fellow I call “The Education Villain of the Year” (and it’s only April).

And, deliciously, my villain’s name is Capone.

Back East on Long Island, where I grew up, they are taking the state tests just as we are here in California. In New York the tests are called the New York State English Language Arts and Mathematics Assessments. Ours are called the California Standards Test.

If you do a web search for any of these names you can see sample questions.

In some states (I’m not certain but I think California is one) parent’s can "opt out" their children from these tests.

But one website I visited said teachers like me can be prosecuted if I "solicit non-cooperation with the tests," so please don’t interpret anything I write here as any kind of advocacy.

Anyway, in New York they apparently don’t have an opt-out law.

That didn’t stop Christine Dougherty of Oceanside, New York from writing an email to her child’s school advising principal, Thomas Capone of Oceanside High, that her son Joseph was not taking what she called "unnecessary testing."

You can understand why this would upset Mr. Capone. Here was a lawbreaker openly admitting her culpability.

And I’m pretty certain that if Joseph boycotted the tests it would be a major political problem for Mr. Capone. My guess is that Oceanside stands to be sanctioned by the state for failing to get everyone into the testing program.

I don’t want to unfairly malign Mr. Capone. Maybe there are "facts not in evidence."

Maybe Ms. Dougherty has been a thorn in Mr. Capone’s side for months.

Maybe she complains daily about the canned string beans used in the cafeteria or the cheap floor wax in the hallways.

I don’t know. And, as I said, he’s undoubtedly under pressure from the district and the state to get every kid tested.

And, yes, I know Ms. Dougherty could have just kept her child home with "the flu’"for a couple of weeks and possibly avoided a confrontation.

But what Mr. Capone did was, to me, beyond the pale.

“If you keep Joseph home from school during the Assessment period without medical verification,” Mr. Capone wrote to Joseph’s mom, ”it is within the District’s discretion to deem these absences as indicia of educational neglect, which would leave the District little choice but to contact Child Protective Services.”

If your kid doesn’t show up for the tests lady we might take your kid away from you!

From what I’ve read Child Protective Services doesn’t mess around. Once you are in the legal system all bets are off. This is Mr. Capone going nuclear. This is the ultimate threat.

This is my Villain of the Year.

(Editor's note: A group advocating for opt-out laws has posted the correspondence between the parent and the principal.  The group is called Opt Out Of The State Test: The National Movement.)

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Thomas Clarke April 26, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Jerry, you might want to do a little more research on Thomas Capone and the Oceanside School District. Your reporting sounds to me like it is from Nacny Grace or Fox News or straight from some very uninformed folks. IOn point of fact, Capone is an elementary principal. The school and district are a lot more advanced in education and techinques than San Leandro High and the efforts that your district is presenting. Here is the link. http://www.oceanside.k12.ny.us/2florence/principal_message.htm I suspect that the helicopter mom Christine Dougherty is the real villain. Take a look. As near as I can tell Thomas Capone is a hero and ought to be in a position like many teachers and professionals to get an award not slander. Get your facts right before you print this drivel.
Marga Lacabe April 26, 2012 at 06:23 PM
It's nice to know that other parents are also opting-out of having their kids take the standardized tests. I've opted out this year and will continue doing so in the future. I've also opted out of having my kids take /district/ standardized tests.
Pat Davis April 26, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Help me please: I can't understand why any parent would not want his/her child to take a standardized test!! Maybe I'm naive but my understanding was that if the student does not pass, then he/she needs more help. If he/she doesn't even take the test one could assume a student could go thru K - 12, finish, and not be able to read, do math or basic education. Maybe I'm missing something here. ????
Tom Abate (Editor) April 26, 2012 at 07:33 PM
The critique is that teachers teach to the test. Monkey see, monkey do. The alternative that Jerry Heverly advocates (for instance in his last column on excitement) is that what is most important is to instill a love of learning. Are they mutually exclusive?
Marga Lacabe April 26, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Pat, as a parent I want my children to be /educated/, not just taught how to pass a test. An education implies exposing a child to all fields of knowledge -or at least as many as possible. I want my kids to know math and grammar, but also science and history and civics and geography. I want them to know, for example, that it's the gravitational pull of the moon which causes the tides and not God or Thor up in Mount Olympus. In other words, I want my children to have enough of a knowledge base to know how to think and approach new issues and problems. Standardized tests tell you how well a child knows a very narrow field of knowledge. That, in itself, is rather harmless - but the emphasis put into children passing those tests to the exclusion of everything else, robs children of an education. Knowing how to read is of no use if you haven't learned enough to put what you've read into context. As a parent, I have a fairly good idea of where my kids are academically. For one, they get tested by their own teachers and get report cards. Standardized tests tell me nothing of any value. I wish more parents would understand the harm that tests cause our children - and our society.
Angela Marrujo April 26, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Prettttttyy sure Thor was Norse and wasn't hanging out with the Greek gods up in Mount Olympus. Just saying.
Marga Lacabe April 26, 2012 at 11:40 PM
Angela, remember how we talked about your need to acquire a sense of humor? It's time to start working on it. http://youtu.be/wb3AFMe2OQY And for Leah (who does have one): http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/370183/january-06-2011/bill-o-reilly-proves-god-s-existence---neil-degrasse-tyson
Angela Marrujo April 27, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Marga, your reading comprehension skills? It's time to start working on them - if that wasn't a clearly sarcastic joke, I don't know what was. And I don't click on your links. Ever. You can stop wasting my time now.
Marga Lacabe April 27, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Angela, so you are saying you are a waste of time? You are just too easy.
Angela Marrujo April 27, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Do you realize that your comment didn't make any logical sense, or are you just trying to prove not only that you can't read, but that your need to have the last word is pathetic, at best. Keep talking, you're only doing yourself a disservice here. WHY you're continuing to talk at all, I have no idea.
Marga Lacabe April 27, 2012 at 05:35 AM
As I said, you are just too easy.
Oceanside Parent April 27, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I do not feel the principal is a "villain" but neither is the mom here. I am an Oceanside resident. I stand behind both parent and principal if that makes sense. I totally disagree with the testing. I disagree because I too feel the children are being taught "to the test", I disagree because the tests are OFTEN flawed, leaving children frustrated with looking for an answer to a question that does not even EXIST, I disagree because they asks questions KNOWING a child has NOT been taught something "just to see how many kids get it right" - these questions do not "count" towards the score, but imagine how the child taking the test feels? They aren't aware these questions do not count. The test itself is not "HARD", so why so much pressure on these kids when prepping for it? That is why I agree with the mother - because the kids are being pressured so that they are a nervous WRECK - these are 3rd-8th grade CHILDREN. The principal was "doing his job" according to our State laws. Could he have had more "finesse" in delivering the message, absolutely, but it sounds more like a "form" letter than anything to me. As a parent, the actual score means NOTHING to ME personally - if my child does great then awesome, if he doesn't, then so what? He gets good grades on his report card, this has NO baring on what college he will be going to 8 years from now...it is a MONEY MAKER for the state...bottom line!
Oceanside Parent April 27, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Tom Abate (Editor) April 27, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Thank you, Oceanside Parent. Is this a hot item where you live? Is it in the local paper or on the radio? It wouldn't be on this site except for the fact that the author of this column tracks items like this.
Gentaly Malavoz April 27, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Ummm, she does not sound like a "helicopter mom" but rather a very educated professional who is a concerned parent. HIs character is not the question, it is his conduct which seems crystal clear in not only the tone of his letter, but in the idle, illegal threats that he puts in. It also seems that he is not the villian, but rather the messenger. Someone else had a hand in writing his letter, written more like a counselor than a principal.
Mari April 28, 2012 at 01:29 AM
This subject has no right side. No winning argument. Everyone really pretty much agrees that kids should be educated. They should also not be taking meaningless tests. Tests they take should not be the scary. Kids should take tests and there should be meaning to them. (Other than to give a rating to each school). Parents can rebel against things they are philosophically opposed to. Their children may not agree with them once they are adults. Ironically, be prepared folks. Children need to learn critical thinking skills and how to think even more than facts. Facts are important though. You can not be educated without them. Its an imperfect system. Most systems are.
Anna T April 28, 2012 at 01:40 AM
I would just like to say that Tom Capone is one of the most kind and respectful men you'll ever meet. Any educator would tell you that if a child is absent enough then CPS is called and the childs absences are investigated, this however DOES NOT mean that the child would be 'taken away'. Mrs. Doherty get a life, if anyone is doing a disjustice to your child it is YOU!!
Gentaly Malavoz April 28, 2012 at 09:39 AM
Actually there is some publicity on this and the story is gaining speed, especially in the special education community.
Gentaly Malavoz April 28, 2012 at 09:44 AM
Tom Capone is only the messenger. This parent is a hero. She is standing up for her son and for those with special needs. Comments like "get a life" are left on the end of messages when the writer misunderstands the question. The character of the principal is not in question, but rather the character of his boss Dr. brown, superintendent of schools, who probably had a lawyer write the reply, based on the language.
Gentaly Malavoz April 28, 2012 at 09:48 AM
The student already has help. He has special education services. The tests are days long,2-4 hours a day, and VERY stressful!
Marga Lacabe May 01, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Star testing is starting in SL tomorrow. If you want your kids to not participate in such travesty, make sure you let your kids' teachers and principals know. You will need to turn in a written and signed note to this effect before testing starts. My daughter's teacher is having her do a special project, so she won't be bored while other kids take the test. But even spending that time reading a novel (1984, for example?) would be a better way to spend their times than taking that test.
David May 01, 2012 at 02:07 PM
"Testing" is a response to unaccountable public school teachers, principals, and "bureaucracy." If, as I have mentioned before, teachers could be fired by principals who were also a) accountable and b) not political hacks (as they are in many if not most urban school districts), and the bureaucrats were tucked safely away somewhere sucking up tax dollars but not doing anything, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Instead, as a response to teachers who can't be fired unless they've been molesting a student, principals who are politically appointed hacks, and tax-sucking bureaucrats studiously eliminating rigor from education and replacing it with fads like "whole language" learning, voters have demanded SOME kind of benchmark for kids' educations. Perfect? no. But a easy-to-see response to the setting. Make teachers and principals accountable, give parents more CHOICE, and fire all the Sacramento bureaucrats, and we'd be doing at least as well for half the money (as has been demonstrated in way more dysfunctional systems such as Milwaukee).
Eileen Porte May 23, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Here's a reason: My daughter was told she couldn't take an honors class based on a standardized test score she had gotten 3 1/2 years earlier. And she had taken it when she was ill with a chronic condition. When I asked the school about her taking it when she wasn't at her best, I was told that it would help the district meet required guidelines, but wouldn't affect my daughter at all. Right. I had to fight like hell to get her into that honors class, even though she had taken other honors classes for three years and gotten a 95 average overall, and even though her teachers and guidance counselor recommended she be placed in all honors classes.
pavankingp December 23, 2012 at 07:20 AM
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