spacer If we applied high-stakes
testing to dentistry . . .

reading glasses on book
Top nav

HOME  |  Contact Us  |  Brochures  |  Products  |  Read-Aloud Handbook excerpts   |  Wilson Rawls  |  Jim's Retirement Letter

spacer



toothpaste and toothbrush under text: No dentist left behind

by John Taylor © 2002

Used by permission of the author.
Originally titled: "Absolutely the Best Dentists" Also: History behind essay

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great.

"Did you hear about the new state program to measure the effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?" I said.

"No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?"

"It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14 and 18 and average that to determine a dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average and Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better," I said. "Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses to practice in South Carolina."

"Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."

"That's terrible," he said.

"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try to improve children's dental health in this state?"

"Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry."

"Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all work with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can't control?

"For example," he said, "I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper-middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem and I don't get to do much preventive work.

"Also," he said, "many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from a young age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay.

"To top it all off," he added, "so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?"

"It sounds like you're making excuses," I said. I couldn't believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job.

"I am not!" he said. "My best patients are as good as anyone's, my work is as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most."

"Don't get touchy," I said.

toothbrushestoothbrushesspacer"Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. "Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average or worse.

"My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse.

"On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?"

"I think you're over-reacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won't improve dental health '... I am quoting that from a leading member of the DOC," I noted.

"What's the DOC?" he said.

"It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly lay-persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved."

"Spare me," he said. "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it," he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you measure good dentistry?"

"Come watch me work," he said. "Observe my processes."

"That's too complicated and time consuming," I said. "Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."

"No one would ever think of doing that to schools."
                        —dentist

"That's what I'm afraid my patients and prospective patients will think. This can't be happening," he said despairingly.

"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."

   "How?" he said.

"If you're rated poorly, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out," I said brightly.

"You mean," he said, "they will send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help."

"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."

"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children's progress without regard to influences outside the school — the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. "I'm going to write my representatives and senator," he said. "I'll use the school analogy — surely they'll see my point."

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.

History of this essay

John Taylor, retired superintendent of schools in Lancaster, S.C., offers this history of the above essay which he wrote while leading that district:

   "The parody was originally titled 'Absolutely the Best Dentists.' It was written and sent to every newspaper and legislator in South Carolina a number of years ago in an attempt to point out the absurdities inherent in South Carolina's then new accountability act which was focused on 'absolute' performance and threatened retention for every child who couldn't meet very challenging grade level standards. (Not to mention severe penalties for 'poorly performing' schools, teachers ands administrators.) Since then it has traveled widely to the point that I have not been able to keep up with the uses; but I know it has appeared in teacher association publications in at least three Canadian Provinces and in Australia, as well as dozens in the USA. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) seems to have given the story a new life." Thus: No Dentist Left Behind.
    The essay remains on the Lancaster County School District's Web site.

Lancaster County School District
300 South Catawba Street (zip-29720)
P.O. Drawer 130 (zip-29721)
Lancaster, S.C.
tel: 803-286-6972 • Fax: 803-286-4865

John Taylor is a retired superintendent of schools for the Lancaster County School District. A graduate of Davidson College with MEd and EdS degrees from USC, he has served as a teacher or administrator in several of South Carolina's most economically challenged school districts, including Allendale, Clarendon, Colleton and Dillon. He also has worked in Richland 2 and Rock Hill and served as an education consultant at the Department of Education.

 

Want to share this whole page with a friend?

spacer

PAGE TOP
Home  |  Contact us   |   Product catalog 
About Jim Trelease  |  Audio lectures   |  Film lectures
Read-Aloud Handbook  |  Hey! Listen to This   |  Read All About It!   | Free Brochures
Wilson Rawls-author profile  |  Beverly Cleary-author profile  |  Gary Paulsen-author profile
Rain gutter bookshelves  |  Censorship & children's books    
What's New—reviews of new children's books  |  Trelease Retirement Letter

 To search this site, use the Google search engine to the left. Occasionally Google reports older, out-of-date pages ("404 Error") which can usually be found using the Internet Archives (pasting the missing URL
into the "WayBackMachine" space).


COPYRIGHT NOTICE
Trelease on Reading is copyright, 2011, 2014 by Jim Trelease and Reading Tree Productions.
All rights reserved. Any problems or queries about this site should be directed to: Reading Tree Webmaster

spacer