Note: This is the first contribution to our series of guest posts on testing and choice.
by Jacqueline Cooper
We can’t help our children, especially Black children from low-income and working-class families, if we don’t know how well schools are serving them. This is especially true when it comes to expanding the high-quality options our children need to gain equity and access to great teaching and learning. This is why the Black Alliance for Educational Options and others in the education reform movement are so committed to ensuring all schools are held accountable through annual statewide tests and other measures.
But there are some allies in the movement who are concerned that parental choice programs and public charter schools may be subjected to excessive accountability standards. They contend that data from tests don’t provide information on the benefits that charters and private schools bring to the lives of children outside of academic achievement. They also argue that requiring private schools to conduct annual statewide testing as a condition for participating in voucher or opportunity scholarship programs restricts the number of schools children can attend.
Those concerns have some validity. But for the most part, they don’t have merit.
Researchers such as Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard University, through their research on the impact of teachers using student test score growth data, have demonstrated the strong correlation between achievement on tests and later economic outcomes. If we as parent choice activists don’t believe testing is valid, then why did we just celebrate charter school exam scores in Arizona or the steady progress of all students in Washington, DC on this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress?
As for concerns about subjecting private schools (along with public charter schools) to onerous accountability? The fact that private schools in Indiana are participating in that state’s accreditation system – including using statewide tests – without fear of accountability shows that this is not nearly the barrier that our allies think it is. It’s important to remember that we must continue proving the value of expanding parental choice to the taxpayers who help fund opportunity scholarship programs and all public schools in general.
We remember all too well that until the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act 13 years ago, the educational needs of low-income and working-class Black children and their peers from other underserved communities were ignored with impunity. Thanks to No Child and to the annual statewide testing required under the law, we can quantify how well or poorly schools are serving our children. More importantly, thanks to the accountability measures contained in the law, parental choice activists have the data they need to fight for expanding educational options.
Sixty percent of parents in several states responding to BAEO’s poll on parental choice and equity said testing and accountability is necessary. Thanks to statewide testing, parents now have reliable data they can use to choose high-quality educational options that best serve the needs of their children. Parents need both the power to choose and the ability to choose greater quality. Providing them with immediate and objective data, both on the performance of schools and their impact on their children, is essential to empowering them.
Finally, as parental choice activists, we must be as concerned about addressing issues of equity in traditional public schools that still serve the majority of our low-income and working-class Black children as we are about expanding parental choice. With just 18 percent of Black fourth graders and 16 percent of Black eighth grader reading at proficient and advanced levels on this year’s NAEP, we must make sure all schools are providing a great education to every child.
So the push for great schools doesn’t just end with educational opportunities. Without annual testing and other accountability measures, we can’t expand choice for parents or increase equity for low-income or working-class Black families. Annual statewide testing is an important way to do it.