Some big news over the weekend in the education debate that we thought was particularly telling in terms of how these debates play out in our town. A big coalition of all of the leading civil rights organizations in the country – the NAACP, La Raza, the Urban League, and the Leadership Center, among others – came out aggressively with a strong statement blasting the efforts by some to push out-out and other test disruption strategies. This effort to disrupt testing “only makes it harder to identify and fix the deep-seated problems in our schools,” according to the civil rights groups.
Today, 12 national civil and human rights groups announced their opposition to anti-testing efforts springing up across the country that are discouraging students from taking standardized tests and subverting the validity of data about educational outcomes. Data obtained through some standardized tests are particularly important to the civil rights community because they are the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes, even while vigilance is always required to ensure tests are not misused. These data are used to advocate for greater resource equity in schools and more fair treatment for students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners. Anti-testing efforts have resulted in statewide bills and local pressure on schools to discourage students from taking assessments, which would undermine the validity of this data. The groups’ joint statement follows:
“For the civil rights community, data provide the power to advocate for greater equality under the law. It’s the reason we’ve fought to make sure that we’re counted equally in every aspect of American life, such as in employment, the criminal justice system, and consumer lending. Our commitment to fair, unbiased, and accurate data collection and reporting resonates greatest in our work to improve education. The educational outcomes for the children we represent are unacceptable by almost every measurement. And we rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children. These data are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity.
The full list of groups signing on included The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The American Association of University Women (AAUW), Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA), Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), NAACP, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Urban League (NUL), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), TASH. All told, it’s a broad coalition of civil rights advocates, saying the same thing: the efforts to sabotage these tests HURT kids – especially those who need our help the most.
We’re glad to see these groups speaking out powerfully and forcefully on this, and calling a spade a spade. It’s easy to forget, but as they mention, a big reason we have tests is to understand – in a basic way – how we’re doing at educating our kids. That’s information we don’t have otherwise – we just have to take their word for it. And not long ago, as the statement reminds us it was possible for school districts and schools to hide the achievement gaps that exist way too often, and to sweep them under the rug:
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.
That’s why we’re troubled by the rhetoric that some opponents of testing have appropriated from our movement. The anti-testing effort has called assessments anti-Black and compared them to the discriminatory tests used to suppress African-American voters during Jim Crow segregation. They’ve raised the specter of White supremacists who employed biased tests to ‘prove’ that people of color were inferior to Whites.
There are some legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed. But instead of stimulating worthy discussions about over-testing, cultural bias in tests, and the misuse of test data, these activists would rather claim a false mantle of civil rights activism. At the heart of that debate is whether or not we will have the courage to make the necessary investments in each and every child, no matter their race, ethnicity, class, disability status, or first language.
But we cannot fix what we cannot measure. 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.
The statement powerfully calls out the anti-activists, blasting them for their efforts to “claim a false mantle of civil rights activism.” That’s something that we’ve seen plenty of here in Montclair, where MCAS has tried to claim their advocacy is in support of minority children (when in reality it’s just been focused on trying to pick apart the district’s work, and as often as not, to disrupt the efforts of the community work being done to tackle the achievement gap here).
Meanwhile (and we’re still working through them), the Michelle Fine emails show her efforts to try and seize this mantle for MCAS, constantly attacking the district and leadership as racist. In reality, as this statement – coming from groups like the NAACP and Urban League – powerfully states, it’s actually the sort of activism that she’s leading that is an attack on the civil rights of our children. This is a powerful reminder that as much as activists like MCAS and Fine claim their work is motivated by support for civil rights, the truth is that it’s all about their politics, their national agenda, the politics of their allies in the union (which explain the opposition to tests), and their single-minded effort to attack and disrupt the district’s efforts.