By Denise Tessier
A week ago (March 13), the Albuquerque Journal gave its most important front page slot – the upper right-hand column – to an UpFront opinion piece by D’Val Westphal, one of the Journal’s editorial writers. It was headlined “Students’ letters show the system isn’t working”.
In it, Westphal reported that she had obtained, via a public records request, copies of 165 letters written by Santa Fe high school students to Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. And of these letters she wrote:
They are stunning. And not in a good way.
Illustrating the story were five letters, all of which were hand-printed – not typed or written in cursive – and Westphal wrote that they “seem to be from early elementary students with a rudimentary grasp of grammar, spelling and logic,” rather than from students in high school.
Four of the five letters contained misspellings and other mistakes. The impression left by the column was that the letters being shown and others quoted in the story with similar errors were representative of the total 165 letters, not anomalies. Yet, just three days before this column ran (March 10) the Journal published a well-research and articulate letter from a Kelly Drummond of Los Lunas (the fourth in this group of letters about testing), who self-identified as a student “speaking for many students at my school.”
That left this reader wondering. And it turns out, others were wondering about the letters and the Journal column as well.
KNME’s New Mexico in Focus weekly media email, in advance of its March 20 segment, said local expert panelists on the The Line would be discussing “whether student letters published recently in the Albuquerque Journal truly represent the writing skills of New Mexico students.”
Then Friday morning, before The Line discussion aired, Joey Peters of the Santa Fe Reporter wrote about the same group of letters Westphal had obtained, but put them in a completely different light.
The story Peters posted was headlined “Dear Hanna Skandera: Student letters to education secretary about PARCC testing weren’t as bad as story portrayed” and in it he wrote:
While Westphal picked the worst excerpts of the 165 letters sent to Skandera, for this post, I’ll do the opposite and choose from the best excerpts.