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The Lesser of Two Evils: Let’s Reform, not Remove Testing

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Author: shakeirg

I want to share testimony that I gave during the Joint Committee on Education’s June 11th hearing regarding standardized tests. While I think we should look at how to reduce the burden of testing on students, I heard many calls during the hearing to get rid of accountability altogether. Here’s why I don’t think that should happen.

Throughout my life, I’ve lived in low-income neighborhoods. I’ve seen the effects poverty can have on a community, and I’ve seen how hard it is to overcome those effects. And, I know firsthand just how hard it is because I’m trying to overcome a childhood of poverty myself.

My family immigrated to this country a few years before I was born. I grew up with an extended family, including several cousins. From an early age, I could see that while I loved going to school, some of my cousins didn’t feel the same way.

Year after year, we went from grade to grade and school to school together. However, while I worked hard toward a goal of going to college, I saw some of my cousins drift further and further away from finishing high school. I don’t know exactly where our paths started to diverge, but I what I do know is that this fall I will be entering my senior year at Northeastern, and two of my cousins are in prison.

I have watched the school-to-prison pipeline claim members of my family, and I want to make sure Massachusetts doesn’t have schools feeding that very same pipeline.

A report by the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, a Boston-based non-profit, found that in the 2012-2013 school year Black students in Massachusetts received 43 percent of all out-of-school suspensions and 39 percent of expulsions, despite making up only 8.7 percent of students enrolled.

Students who are suspended once are twice as likely than their peers to drop out, and those who drop out are, in turn, 8 times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than students who graduate. It’s a cliche, but, if something doesn’t change we seriously need to  either build better schools or bigger prisons.

We need accountability in schools. I can only imagine where my cousins would be today if someone had caught on and intervened with them. Instead, their challenges were un-addressed and ignored until it was too late.

You can’t just take someone in the 10th grade who’s reading at a 5th grade level and make up for years of instruction. It’ll be expensive, time consuming, and difficult. You can, however, take a 4th grader reading at a 3rd grade level and help him or her catch up. To do that however, you have to catch the problem early, before it gets worse.

It’s cheaper, simpler and easier in the long run to do some version of annual testing.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. Many civil rights groups at the national level support Common Core, because they’ve seen what I’ve seen and they’ve lived my story. It’s no coincidence that major civil rights groups like the NAACP, The National Council on La Raza, The National Urban League, and the National Disability Rights Network are all working together to support Common Core.

They know what’s at stake, and they don’t want to stress people out, they just want a reasonable, objective way to make sure our kids are learning. We should look at how to make testing less burdensome, but let’s not sacrifice all of the progress we’ve made.

I hope that my story can provide at least one example of why we test and what purpose it serves. And, as a Democrat, I hope that my party stands on the side of accountability, so we can continue to be champions for students and fulfill our duty to give all students a high quality education.

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