Supporting the Civil Rights Movement on Assessment

Supporting the Civil Rights Movement on Assessment Earlier this year, we reflected on how the Civil Rights Movement has shaped K12 assessment for over 60 years. Clearly this is a topic that is timely, as earlier this month, a dozen national civil and human rights groups banded together to stake important ground on testing, citing:

“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.”

The groups drafting the statement include a who’s who of the civil rights movement, including the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, the National Disability Rights Network, and the National Urban League – as convened by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. While acknowledging issues in the number and quality of tests, the civil rights community is shining a light on the essential role that assessment plays in measuring and addressing educational equity. As the signatories above testify, “we cannot fix what we cannot measure.”

Inherent to this message is the question: Will we do what needs to be done to ensure that each and every child receives a high quality education?

Required under federal policy, summative accountability assessments are implemented by states and used to determine whether and to what degree students have learned the material they have been taught. Importantly, these results are also used to inform state and federal policies aimed at improving public education and administrative decisions about the type and level of resources and other support that schools receive. We need these tests to know where gaps in student achievement are and how to best use teacher, school and district resources to close them.

Other assessments, such as MAP, are used to help teachers support individual learners. By measuring each student’s academic achievement – regardless of whether that student is performing above, at, or below grade-level – educators can get a more nuanced, useful understanding of learning. This information can be instrumental in differentiating instruction and engaging students in setting their own learning goals. Teachers and principals benefit from using data walls and other tools to collaboratively understand the specific needs of each of their students, and create plans to meet those needs. Education isn’t and shouldn’t be about winners and losers, and focusing on learning growth helps us serve all students.

At NWEA we stand with the civil rights groups in recognizing that well-designed assessments are one of the strongest tools that we have for identifying achievement gaps among student populations and helping educators close them.