All Students Really Do Matter

As I listen to the chorus of union leaders and some teachers and parents calling for an end to annual testing, my mind harkens back to the recent images of Ferguson and Staten Island and the subsequent hashtags, poster boards, T-shirts and chants of “Black Lives Matter.” How disappointing that now, just a couple months later, we discover that many of those who were “all in” with hashtags and t-shirts are suddenly “all out” when it comes to educating those same black lives. All those lives. If there is one good thing that came out of the No Child Left Behind Act that passed in bipartisan fashion under George W. Bush, it is that the “invisible” children could no longer be hidden. Districts could no longer run from the truth that far too many children were not learning or performing at the levels many had previously believed and hoped. We were forced to confront the tragic reality that we were failing far too many of our most vulnerable children. Data showed, unequivocally, that black students, Latino students, special needs students, low income students and English language learning students were achieving at significantly lower levels than their non-poor white peers. My own state of Rhode Island was forced to acknowledge that its Latino students reflect an achievement gap, compared with white students, that is among the 10 worst in the country. We, as a nation and along with local communities, finally had to be accountable not only for results but also for ensuring that we took urgent measures to improve outcomes for all ALL students. Because ALL KIDS MATTER. It seems criminal (not a word I use lightly) that we would spend $35 billion in federal education money (and $128 million in my tiny state) and then not feel a sense of obligation to share results; shouldn’t those taxpayers, many of whom are parents of school-aged children, be given the opportunity to assess for themselves whether or not they are getting their money’s worth? Shouldn’t parents be given the opportunity to know how much their child has grown in math and reading over the year while also seeing how he or she compares with students in another city or state? Shouldn’t parents who are trying to decide on the right school for their children be able to consult annual data about student growth to inform their decision? It seems that a majority of those opposed to annual testing are willing to support a limited assessment schedule in which students would be tested once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school. As a mother of three young boys, I say that is simply not good enough. If I were still a teacher or school board member, I’d say the same. That schedule essentially does nothing more than kick the can down the road while failing to empower students, parents or even educators. By limiting testing, remediation that should fall on the current teachers and schools inevitably becomes the problem of a child's subsequent teachers and schools. Such infrequent measures certainly wouldn’t have saved my ninth graders who arrived to high school reading and doing math at only a fourth grade level. How did we discover how far behind these students were? We tested them. I’m confident that they wouldn’t have been five years behind when I met them if they had been tested annually and provided interventions based on the results. Instead, they were repeatedly promoted to the next grade without the skills needed to do the work. They were failed by the system. My own Senator from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse, sits on the Senate committee currently working on the reauthorization of ESEA. I was disheartened as a mother and a voter when he used his five minutes to parrot union talking points and make unfounded generalizations about the views of our state’s teachers and school leaders. If he had reached out to our recent Teacher of the Year winners, he would have heard professional opinions that contradict the views he represented from the microphone during the January 21st hearing. Even after listening to his fellow committee members speak with conviction about the need for annual measurement of every student’s growth, he had this to say:
The superstructure of education supervision—I am not sure passes the test of being worth all the expense and all the trouble.
Perhaps Senator Whitehouse should speak to the thousands of Rhode Island parents who never knew would have known how far behind their children were in reading and math without annual testing; or the teachers who depend on those measures in order to identify problems and help struggling students before remediation is a nearly impossible task. I’m quite confident that they would all say that it is “worth the trouble.” To quote Phylis Hoffman, a board-certified, 23-year veteran second-grade teacher from Los Angeles:
All public schools need to play by the same rulebook because the playing field is not level…. Personally, I feel that if we remove annual testing and data collecting, we will send a silent message that prosperous, mostly white America, doesn't care about our poor and mostly non-white students. But when you think about it, closing the achievement gap, is the heart and soul of teaching and ESEA. It's not surprising that teachers want to keep the lights on this challenge.
Would I only take my child to the doctor for a check-up three times between kindergarten and their high school graduation? Would anyone? Common sense tells us that the same people rallying against annual testing also take their children to the doctor every year and appreciate knowing how much they’ve grown. They might even bring their cars in for an annual inspection and schedule a yearly mole check. Annual testing of student growth is an information source for all of the adults working tirelessly to prepare our children for college and the workplace. By not testing kids regularly, we risk deceiving them, their parents and even their teachers about their readiness for graduation, higher education, military service and career. By the time they discover the truth, it just may be too late. If we truly believe that BLACK LIVES MATTER and ALL KIDS MATTER, we need to measure learning annually. If we don’t, we are showing that we don’t really mean what we say.
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...

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