Calling the Nation’s Civil Rights Leaders Ignorant on Testing: Really?
Last week, Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, took to the pages of Education Week to call leaders of the Urban League, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the League of Latin American Citizens, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and other national civil rights and disabilities organizations unwitting participants in a plot to injure the nation’s most vulnerable children. Their crime? A unanimous conviction that our country should not abandon the annual testing that gives parents and teachers a regular objective measure of how well their children are progressing on their journey through school.
Tucker’s assertions are breathtaking in their arrogance: That these leaders — many of whom run large, complex organizations and have advanced degrees from some of the nation’s most prestigious universities — are somehow less capable than he is of understanding what the data say about the progress of black, brown, and Native children. That they are so untraveled or unread as to be somehow unaware that most high-performing nations don’t use such an approach. And, most breathtaking of all, that these leaders — all of whom have devoted their lives to bettering the conditions of low-income children, racial minorities, English learners, and children with disabilities — are willingly countenancing a policy that is doing actual damage to these very children.
While neither I nor my organization was a part of the letter on testing opt-outs that raised Tucker’s ire, we work with — and have learned from — these leaders and organizations on many issues over many years. And while they may or may not decide to call him out on his accusations, I will. Because even a white girl can recognize that this is yet another example of the patronizing attitudes displayed by so many white education “leaders” when anybody from the black, brown or Native communities that have been shortchanged in education for so long DARES to disagree.
If it mattered, I would refute Tucker’s assertions one by one. That would be easy, for the “evidence” he puts forth is weak. His suggestion, in particular, that these organizations are blind to the problems inherent in standardized testing should give pause to any knowledgeable reader, for these very organizations have fought against the misuse of tests for decades.
What is so especially galling, though, is that Tucker’s attack is simply subterfuge for the real point he is trying to make, which is not about the accountability that the civil rights leaders have been working so hard to sustain. He doesn’t approve of the use of tests in teacher evaluation.
Now what, you ask, does the civil rights leaders’ support of annual assessment and the responsibility of every school to act when the results show that any group of students is not progressing have to do with whether it is right to use tests in the evaluation of teachers?
Not a damn thing.
But by baiting readers with his portrayal of civil rights leaders “duped” into supporting practices that are bad for vulnerable children, he avoided ever having to wrestle with efforts by the unions to dupe parents into sabotaging the best tests we have ever had just because those tests also are used in the evaluation of some teachers. That sleight of hand might have confused some, but it would have taken a lot more skill to dupe any of the civil rights leaders I know. Thankfully, they’ve prevailed against far more determined and wily opponents.
At a time when almost every state has adopted new and much higher standards for what its children should be taught, we owe parents, teachers and students themselves at least an annual look at where students are on their journey toward those standards. While tests cannot, and should not, be the whole of that checkup, they are a critically important part because they are common across all of the schools in a state. That is why, even as they worry about the extra and often lower quality tests that have been piled on by districts and schools, American parents support continuation of this annual statewide checkup, with support among parents of color highest of all.