David Ignatius describes Nicholas Lemann's alternative to the growing obsession with testing as "startlingly simple" [op-ed, Oct. 6]: Create a more open system that encourages everyone to reach for the highest levels of education.

Many of us who teach in -- and have our children attend -- "less prestigious" schools where test scores may be "below average," already have put that notion into practice. We see beyond the test and work every day to bring about positive change. Unfortunately, we seem to be in the minority.

Our country's obsession with testing may come from a legitimate desire to increase accountability, but it will backfire if we continue to obsess about "the scores" while leaving so many behind.

LINDA ALLEN

Arlington

In David Ignatius's column on Nicholas Lemann's new book, our obsession with standardized tests is declared "needless" because, "the chief aim of school should be not to sort out but to teach as many people as possible as well as possible, equipping them for both work and citizenship."

That, however, sounds like the goal of universal high school. The essential function of elite universities is the generation and dissemination of advanced knowledge.

Envision an Ivy league physics course packed with all comers.

What would be the pace of instruction?

Would performances be graded?

Would the grading instrument be some form of test, which only some would pass?

All we've accomplished is to defer judgment, displacing the burden onto the university while at the same time constraining its mission.

An objective instrument that sorts students produces some social injustice. But experience shows that all known alternatives do worse.

DAVID MURRAY

Fairfax