A dozen civil rights groups stepped forward on Tuesday with a statement that may surprise many parents and students amidst the growing scrutiny around standardized testing.
According to these prominent groups, including the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, parents pulling their children out of standardized testing are hurting children more than they are helping.
The groups insist that without accurate testing data it becomes nearly impossible for them to advocate for children who are not receiving quality education. Pulling out significant amounts of students from the tests will skew the scores and tarnish the validity of that collected data.
“We cannot fix what we cannot measure,” the statement explained, according to the Washington Post. “And abolishing the tests or sabotaging the validity of their results only makes it harder to identify and fix the deep-seated problems in our schools.”
All across the nation, and especially in the Black community, the very ideals of “schooling” are being flipped on their head and analyzed under a brighter, less forgiving light than ever before.
The ugly flaws of standardized testing and the widening achievement gap between low-income and wealthy communities have been highlighted, underscored and exposed for the world to see and for parents to criticize.
They are the type of flaws that did not show their face overnight and the roots of educational inequality have been digging into the foundation of public schools for years, decades even.
Many people believe that a key part of the issue is the heavy reliance on test scores to determine which teachers will receive raises, which districts will get more funding and, ultimately, which schools will be efficiently funded while their counterparts in low-income areas continue to struggle for the bare necessities required for a quality learning environment.
The troubling relationship between funding and test scores is also paired with a disconcerting amount of studies proving racial biases in the tests that place Black students at a disadvantage and the negative impact that the tests tend to have on teachers who feel pressured to “teach by the test” or simply cheat.
Such issues have been pushed on to a national stage following the massive cheating scandal that swept Atlanta Public Schools.
As concerns surrounding the value placed on such test scores continues to rise, parents have grown weary of waiting for advocates to create change. At this rate, their children’s children will be preparing for grade school by the time they see a revolution sweep the schools.
And so the national opt-out movement was birthed and parents took matters into their own hands. But is their attempt to create some sort of change, any kind of change, only going to further cripple the fight for educational equality?
These civil rights groups insist that’s exactly the case.
“For the civil rights community, data provide the power to advocate for greater equality under the law,” the statement continued. “Until federal law insisted that our children be included in these assessments, schools would try to sweep disparities under the rug by sending our children home or to another room while other students took the test. Hiding the achievement gaps meant that schools would not have to allocate time, effort, and resources to close them. Our communities had to fight for this simple right to be counted, and we are standing by it.”
Ironically enough, however, it’s in that very same belief that the opt-out movement will tarnish test results that parents have rooted their argument in support of shunning the standardized tests.
Pulling out their students isn’t just about preventing their children from participating in a practice that they believe isn’t beneficial to them. It’s an attempt to send a clear message to those who have the power to change the way student performance is recorded and analyzed—make the system work for us or we’ll stop the system from working at all.
Even the civil rights groups own joint statement noted that in recent years standardized tests have been “misused over time to deny opportunity and undermine the educational purpose of schools, actions we have never supported and will never condone.”
Prominent voices from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the American Institute for Learning and Human Development, Parents Across America, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and researchers at Columbia University, Harvard and Howard have all noted that standardized tests are not only inefficient when it comes to measuring student’s academic proficiency but also underscore disparities across racial and socioeconomic boundaries.
Of course, that in no way detracts from a valid point the civil rights groups made.
It is impossible to bring about reform if the problem is not being measured. But this also begs the question—what else is left to be measured exactly?
In fact, the landscape has been so stagnant that the very presence of a sudden academic excellence among Atlanta public schools warranted a state investigation.
These problems have been persistent and apparent for years.
It is unclear just how great of an impact the opt-out movement will have on students in the long run or what that impact will be. What is clear, is that these groups have had years to analyze this data and attempt to do something about it.
The road to an educational revolution will be a long one but if these groups are asking parents to back away from their own means of civil disobedience against a system that has been consistently placing low-income students and students of color at a disadvantage for years, they are going to need a better pitch than “give us more time.”
After all, parents are not saying they don’t want academic progress to be recorded.
They’re simply insisting it needs to be reformed in a way that is accurate and fair to all students of all backgrounds, while promoting critical thinking over mindless memorization.