Civil Rights Testing

Denisha Jones: How to Explain to Civil Rights Groups that Testing Does Not Improve the Education of Children of Color

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Denisha Jones, who holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University in curriculum and instruction, is presently a professor at Howard University. She is a regular contributor to EmPower magazine, where the following article appeared:

 

She writes that “reformers” claim that standardized testing will improve the achievement of children of color, although it is actually discourages many children of color. In this article, she includes a graph showing how the testing culture can contribute to the “school-to-prison” pipeline. Discouraged students are likelier to act out in school, likelier to be suspended because of “zero tolerance” policies, likelier to be pushed out of school, and likelier to end up in trouble.

 

These facts may be well known to educators, but they are not so well-known to civil rights organizations, 19 of which signed a statement supporting the continuation of annual testing in the new version of NCLB. Jones uses her article to explain that it is important to understand why they endorse policies that claim to advance civil rights (but don’t), to understand that they have genuinely good reasons for supporting annual testing, and to know that the way to engage in respectful dialogue, not demonizing diatribes.

 

She writes:

 

So why would 19 civil rights organizations demand more testing when there is a vast amount of research that shows how harmful high stakes standardized testing can be for low-income and minority children? I suspect that part of the reason is that the corporate reformers talk a good game. They appeal to parents who feel like they are trapped in failing public schools by co-opting the language of the civil rights movement. This is how an organization like Teach for America can be lauded by many as the savior of public education when in reality they place inexperienced, unqualified, mostly white recent college graduates in schools with students who have the most need, for a couple of years increasing the historic problem of teacher turnover. They claim to want to help low-income students but in reality they are a business that profits off of de-professionalizing the teaching profession by turning teaching into a 2 year temporary experience that anyone can do with five weeks of training. However if you are a parent and your child has consistently had teachers who are racist or do not seem to care, you might just appreciate this energetic fresh faced new comer. It is not hard to see how some parents can be deceived into thinking that the education reforms being forced onto schools are going to finally turn our public school system into an equitable and anti-racist institution.

 

So before you criticize these civil rights group for endorsing more testing you might want to ask yourself what would lead them to take that position. And you should ask yourself if your criticisms of them are going to expose the dangers of standardized testing or further alienate a group of people who have routinely been shut out from mainstream conversation. Criticism does not build allies or welcome people who have been marginalized to join the fight. This does not mean that we should not engage in a thoughtful discussion that challenges the dangers in believing standardized testing can put an end to racial discrimination in schools, but consider the difference in this response and the message it sends.

 

[Jones quotes this response, by Brian Jones, whose article follows this one on the blog]:

 

Likewise, when we deepen the conversation about standardized testing, we usually discover that parents and educators want similar things for our children. If standardized tests are widely and loudly touted as an anti-racist measure of opportunity and fairness, some parents who are desperately searching for some measure of fairness for their children might latch onto that. Those of us who are opposed to high-stakes standardized testing shouldn’t moralize with people, or disparage their viewpoints or their experience. Rather, we have to validate their experience and find a way to deepen the conversation.
If you are an ally to the education activists who are fighting to save public education from the grips of testing and profits, we need you to empathize with these people and not insult them by calling their thinking shallow. The reality is the corporate reformers know how to appeal to these parents concerns. They show sympathy and profess to be committed to helping these children escape the schools that continue to fail them. Maybe if we did the same they would see us as allies and join our fight. The true work of reforming public education into a system where oppression and discrimination are not tolerated and children engage in meaningful learning with teachers who use authentic assessment to guide students into tapping in to their full potential, can only be done when we stop criticizing those who have historically been on the receiving end of a unjust public education system and learn to work together to make our shared vision a reality.

 

 

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