Guest posted by Wendy Rivera, Florida parent
I’m a mom. And the happiness of my children, now and in the future as they go on to start careers and families of their own, is on my mind all the time. That is the American Dream. We all want a better life for our children and do everything in our power to make that happen.
This desire led me to become president & CEO of the Multicultural Education Alliance. After working with policy experts, teachers, principals and parents, I have come to the belief that measuring what students know and holding our system accountable to meeting high standards is one of the most critical levers to improving the quality of education our children receive.
And I am not the only one.
There is a reason why the National Council of La Raza, America’s largest Latino advocacy organization, supports annual testing in schools.
And why it is joined by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and more than a dozen other civil rights groups.
They know the legacy of a system that often considered the success of minority and low-income children optional. Reversing that requires that every child is held to the same rigorous academic standards, and that the progress of every child in attaining them is measured.
Whether Black or Hispanic, artist or mathematician, American-born or naturalized citizens, our children must possess the same knowledge and skills to be successful after high school. We cannot set one bar for some students and another for the rest. They all need to be proficient readers. They all need to understand math, science and civics. They all need to think critically.
But how do parents know their children are gaining this knowledge? Yes, they can and should talk to teachers. But they also need reliable, objective information that allows them to compare their children’s academic achievement with others in the state.
The source for this information is high-quality, standardized tests that measure what students should know.
This is why colleges use entrance exams, why the military uses entrance exams and why so many professions require passage of board exams to obtain a license.
Tests tell me how much progress my children are making from one year to the next, and whether they are on track for graduation and college or a career.
There are those who argue tests are unfair, that they put too much pressure on schools and children. But Florida shows that when held accountable, schools that once failed children can improve results dramatically. What is unfair is not preparing our kids to be successful after high school.
For the past 15 years, Florida has been raising academic standards for all children, and each time, our students have risen to meet them. The results for Hispanic students have proven that more than any other group. Prior to testing and accountability, between 60 and 70 percent of Florida’s minority and low-income fourth graders could not even read at a basic level, contributing to a dismal graduation rate of about 50 percent. Those numbers have improved dramatically:
- Florida’s Hispanic students’ graduation rate increased 28 percentage points, from 47% in 1999 to 75% in 2014.
- Florida has eliminated the gap between Hispanic students and white students taking and completing AP courses and exams, according to the 2014 College Board, 10th Annual Report to the Nation.
- Our state’s Hispanic students outscored or matched the statewide average for all students in 34 states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in fourth-grade reading in 2013.
- Florida’s Hispanic fourth graders rank first in the nation in reading and fourth in the nation in math according to the Nation’s Report Card.
Despite this progress, I hear many parents, a growing number Hispanic, saying we should “opt out” of all tests and accountability connected to them.
I agree there are too many tests. Many of these are required by local districts and are being scaled back. In addition, the state is reassessing its requirements.
You cannot opt out of college, military and professional exams. We have to make sure our students are prepared when the stakes are truly high.
The good news is there is an alternative to “opting out.” The phrase we often hear now is “fewer tests but better tests.’’
That is a good approach. Parents need to know how their students are faring in the fundamental subjects, and they need to know how their schools are performing as well.
I understand there are frustrations, and state legislators and school districts have gotten that message. But returning to a past when so many children were allowed to fail (out of sight, out of mind) is not the answer.
Hispanics have never shied away from hard work and accountability. Let’s come together and fight for a better solution.
Wendy Rivera is a public school parent, attorney and president & CEO of the Multicultural Education Alliance.