If you believe in racial equity, don't opt out of PARCC

Editorial by the Star-Ledger Editorial Board

05/26/15

 Opposition to state testing comes from the far left and the far right. It comes from parents who don't want their kids to feel like failures, or who are happy with their schools and don't see a need for improvement. And, of course, it comes from the teacher's union, which opposes accountability measures. 

But here's what this issue boils down to. If you're interested in racial equality, you have to go for the PARCC, imperfect as it may be. Why? Because it's the only game in town and if we're going to have any hope of closing the achievement gap between poor, minority kids and their wealthier peers, we need this data to do it. 

That's why a dozen civil rights groups, including the N.A.A.C.P. and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released a powerful statement this month saying they are opposed to "anti-testing efforts." The PARCC provides data that is crucial for catching and combating inequities in public schools, they argued. 

When parents decide to opt out, they're not just making a choice for their own child, the civil rights activists said. "They're inadvertently making a choice that undermines efforts to improve the schools for every child."

They're thinking, in particular, of kids like Tanya King's daughter. King, who lives in Newark and has sent four of her five kids to public schools there, wants to know if her daughter is struggling. She wants to know which schools are doing the best before she decides where to send her kids. 

Suburban moms, she says, are living in a different world than hers. "Their education systems are above average," King said. "In Newark, we don't have the luxury in trusting our teachers and administrators to do the right thing because they have failed us for so long." 

State tests, she said, show her where her daughter really stands. "It's important that when she graduates she can go out and compete with kids from the suburbs," King said.

That's not just important in Newark. It's important in Montclair, which had a very high opt-out rate. Two "focus" schools in Montclair are currently under close scrutiny because of their high achievement gaps between students. When advocates argue for fair resources and treatment of poor and minority kids, here and in other districts, they will rely on the data collected from the PARCC. 

Before federal law insisted that all students be tested, schools used to try to hide their achievement gaps, by sending the neediest kids home or to another room during testing, the civil rights groups remind us. "Our communities had to fight for this simple right to be counted and we are standing by it," they said. 

Yet some opponents of testing have even tried to label the PARCC "anti-black," and compare it to tests used to suppress black voters during Jim Crow. Extremist rhetoric like that, based on "a false mantle of civil rights activism," flies in the face of a simple truth, the NAACP and its allies said: We cannot fix what we cannot measure. 

The opt-out movement is sabotaging the data. Liberal-minded people who would normally be very concerned with helping underachieving kids are taking an anti-testing position that actually hurts those kids. In that respect — and in the degree of paranoia involved — it's similar to the anti-vaccination movement. And it may be just as damaging.

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