She may be in good company these days if so, but this could also be explained by Hanlon’s Razor rather than flat-out dishonesty. Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed that she had been assessed as requiring remedial education when she first enrolled in public school due to her use of Spanish and her ethnic appearance. Only after taking a “high stakes” standardized test, she claimed, did her school recognize her brilliance, seeing her score in the 99th percentile.
Given that the event was supposed to champion public schools in opposition to charter schools, it’s not quite clear what point the 99th Percentile Child was trying to make (via the Free Beacon and RedState):
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recalled how her public-school teachers thought she needed “remedial education” because she had grown up speaking Spanish at home.
The freshman lawmaker, speaking Saturday at a packed town hall organized by the Jackson Heights People for Public Schools, said, “As a child I spoke Spanish first. … and I went to a school where no one looked like me. I went to a school where teachers thought I needed remedial education because I spoke two languages instead of one.”
It wasn’t until she took a “high-stakes” test in which she scored in the 99th percentile across the board, she said, that educators realized she did not need extra help.
“It took a test instead of understanding the child in front of them,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who shared the stage with State Sen. Jessica Ramos, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, and NYU Professor Diane Ravitch, a leading charter school opponent.
That sounds like … a good argument for breaking the public-school monopoly on education rather than fortifying it, no? Wouldn’t a charter school, with its heightened responsiveness to parents, have worked more closely with Ocasio-Cortez’ parents from the beginning?
The argument also confused Ravitch, although perhaps not on that point. Ravitch noted that Ocasio-Cortez’ claim couldn’t have happened the way she told it — because the exams didn’t score by percentile. While generally praising Ocasio-Cortez’ appearance at the rally, Ravitch explained that either Ocasio-Cortez is confused or her parents were:
There was much talk about the importance of parents taking action by opting out of state tests. NYC has one of the lowest opt-out rates in the state, in some part because parents are warned that they won’t be admitted to the middle school or high school of their choice without test scores. It was a bit jarring to hear AOC say that she was treated in the Yorktown schools as in need of remedial education because she was Hispanic, not mainstream, but, she said, “a-high-stakes standardized Test” revealed she was in the 99th percentile. No one stopped to point out that she could not be referring to any high-stakes test used for accountability purposes because they don’t rank by percentile. They classify students as 1, 2, 3, or 4. Her teacher must have given her a no-stakes individual test that produces a percentile ranking for diagnostic purposes.
Anyone watching Ocasio-Cortez blunder her way through public policy and reality over the last several months might have difficulty believing she scores in the 99th percentile on any kind of aptitude test. The story is difficult to buy for other reasons, too. It’s not as if Ocasio-Cortez was among a vanguard of New York students who primarily spoke Spanish at home; by the mid-1990s, that had been an issue for generations. It seems highly doubtful that an issue of speaking Spanish alone would have landed Ocasio-Cortez in remedial education at a New York City public school, except perhaps only to catch up on English-language skills.
This smells like myth-making on Ocasio-Cortez’ part, although it’s possible that she’s just regurgitating what her parents told her about her early education. Why anyone would tell their child that their school thought they were developmentally disadvantaged is another matter, but it’s not impossible either. Hanlon’s Razor applies here: Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. In Ocasio-Cortez’ case, it’s almost always safer to rely on the latter as it exists in such abundance.
Ravitch also provides this description of the “only controversy” at the meeting:
The only controversy occurred during the Q and A session.
Someone asked AOC what she thought about Mayor deBlasio’s interest in changing the entrance exams for admission to the city’s most select high schools. Almost on cue, a group of protesters stood up and held signs saying that any effort to change the entrance exams would be “anti-Asian bias.” It was a tense few moments, and AOC wisely responded that the issue was one that divided people who should be in the same camp, fighting for better schools, and that the issue was the inevitable consequence of a “scarcity mentality.” Why aren’t there good high schools for everyone?
Ahem. The socialism that Ocasio-Cortez champions is entirely based on scarcity models. That is the underlying principle of forced redistribution — that wealth and assets are static and require top-down distribution to ensure fairness. Ocasio-Cortez appears easily confused by a number of matters, and her personal test scores might be the least worrisome of them.