Educational Assessments and Equity

Educational Assessments and EquityAt this time of change in U.S. education policy, it is important to recognize that some parents, teachers, principals and superintendents in low-income and urban districts view assessments quite differently than those in middle- and high-income districts. These differences reflect that assessments have the potential to reveal social cleavages and to unite diverse communities. We should recognize the role that assessment plays in promoting equity and ensure that assessment policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) supports an equitable education for children in all U.S. schools.

Civil rights advocates use data from state accountability tests to advocate for equity in schools and for fair treatment of students of color, students with disabilities, English learners and low-income students. Last spring, 12 of the most influential national civil and human rights groups expressed their support of standardized testing.

Our commitment to fair, unbiased, and accurate data collection and reporting resonates greatest in our work to improve education. The educational outcomes for the children we represent are unacceptable by almost every measurement. And we rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children. These data are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity. … At the heart of that debate is whether or not we will have the courage to make the necessary investments in each and every child, no matter their race, ethnicity, class, disability status, or first language. But we cannot fix what we cannot measure.

(Source: http://www.civilrights.org/press/2015/anti-testing-efforts.html)

The view that accountability testing advances equity by forcing schools to grapple with achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status helps explain why lower-income parents are more likely than higher-income parents to agree or strongly agree that state tests improve learning. One-third of parents (33%) with a household income under $60,000 agree or strongly agree that state tests improve learning, compared with 16% of parents with an income of $60,000-$89,999; 17% of parents with an income of $90,000-$119,999; 21% of parents with an income of $120,000- $179,999; and 15% of parents with an income above $180,000.

On the other hand, educators working in low-income districts are more likely to express concerns about too much testing than those in middle- and high-income districts, indicating that the connection between assessments and promoting equity is not always clear.

  • Principals in low-income schools (77%) are more likely than those in middle- and high-income schools (65%) to say students spend too much time taking assessments.
  • Teachers (80%) and principals (68%) in low-income schools are more likely than teachers (71%) and principals (58%) in middle- and high-income schools to say teachers spend too much time preparing for assessments.

ESSA’s requirement that states assess school performance using more than just state test scores — including factors such as access to advanced coursework, measures of school climate and measures of school engagement — may, if implemented properly, direct greater resources to schools serving low-income students and students of color.

For assessments to be powerful tools for publicizing and combating inequality, as well as meeting educators’ data needs, more resources must be steered toward data coaching and assessment tools that fit the needs of educators. Our data show that these important types of resources are more likely to exist in low-income schools, compared with middle- and high-income schools.

  • Principals in low-income schools (37%) are more likely than those in middle- and high-income schools (24%) to say they have a data coach.
  • Principals in low-income schools (75%) are more likely than those in middle- and high-income schools (62%) to have developed an assessment plan.
  • Teachers in low-income schools are more likely than those in middle- and high-income schools to say they are very prepared to interpret assessment results (43% vs. 31%), modify teaching based on assessment results (49% vs. 33%) and use results to collaborate with peers (48% vs. 33%).

For a comprehensive look at perceptions of K-12 assessments among students, parents, teachers, and school leaders, download our latest report – Make Assessment Work for All Students: Multiple Measures Matter.