Journey for Justice and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools has written a letter on civil rights, testing and school reform, which Parents Across America has endorsed. The letter addresses the position of a few traditional civil rights groups to maintain the federal annual testing mandate, claiming that such tests are needed to assure equity.
The J4J letter responds to that claim by citing the ever-growing number of standardized tests being given to children:
We are not opposed to state mandated testing as a component of a well-rounded system of evaluating student needs. But enough is enough.
We want balanced assessments, such as oral exams, portfolios, daily check-ins and teacher created assessment tools—all of which are used at the University of Chicago Lab School, where President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have sent their children to be educated. For us, civil rights are about access to schools all our children deserve. Are our children less worthy?
High stakes standardized tests have been proven to harm Black and Brown children, adults, schools and communities. Curriculum is narrowed. Their results purport to show that our children are failures. They also claim to show that our schools are failures, leading to closures or wholesale dismissal of staff. Children in low income communities lose important relationships with caring adults when this happens. Other good schools are destabilized as they receive hundreds of children from closed schools. Large proportions of Black teachers lose their jobs in this process, because it is Black teachers who are often drawn to commit their skills and energies to Black children. Standardized testing, whether intentionally or not, has negatively impacted the Black middle class, because they are the teachers, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, counselors, security staff and custodians who are fired when schools close.
Standardized tests are used as the reason why voting rights are removed from Black and Brown voters—a civil right every bit as important as education. Our schools and school districts are regularly judged to be failures—and then stripped of local control through the appointment of state takeover authorities that eliminate democratic process and our local voice—and have yet so far largely failed to actually improve the quality of education our children receive.
The letter includes several recommendations for better ways ESEA can support strong schools for all children: more funding for low-income schools, programs to create what they call sustainable community schools, and restorative justice discipline, and a moratorium on charter school expansion. PAA supports these ideas, while adding a few others (such as in here and here).
Read the full J4J letter here.