Is High Stakes Testing the Best Way to Improve Educational Performance Among Students of Color and Students Living in Poverty?

    Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, there has been a concerted effort to reduce gaps in educational  performance  by race and class by promoting regular testing in all grades and subjects and rating schools and teachers on the basis those tests.  As a consequence of such policies, thousands of  public schools in low income neighborhoods and communities of color have been closed, tens of thousands of teachers removed from their jobs, and charter schools promoted  as the best strategy to combat educational inequality.
   Given the failure of these policies to achieve their stated goal- namely, to  reduce the Black/White and Latino/White Achievement Gap as measured by test scores or college completion rates-  we would like to call for a reconsideration  of High Stakes Testing by elected officials and educators in Low Income Communities and Communities of Color, along with a search for alternative strategies which might produce better results.
   Before we provide a critical examination of some of the negative consequences of High Stakes Testing- we would like to call attention to another approach, put forward more than twenty years ago, which has been neglected in the years since No Child Left Behind- namely community schooling and culturally appropriate pedagogy. In the 1980’s and early 90’s, many educators of color were urging that public schools in Black and Latino neighborhoods develop curricula centered on Black and Latino history and culture, that schools be transformed into round the clock community centers, and that schools should be involved in social justice organizing in communities under stress.  These measures were fiercely resisted on the state and local level and for the most part were not implemented;  however, the few schools created with this model were highly successful. They were rejected not because they failed- but because they could not attract sufficient funding in the public and private sector
   Enter No Child Left Behind. All of a sudden, leaders of both parties get behind an initiative which appears to make a national commitment to reducing educational inequality by race and class especially since there is unprecedented private sector support for educational initiatives which follow the models this effort puts forward.  
  However, the model systematically rejects key features of the approach Black and Latino Educators were putting forward in the 80’s and 90’s
1. It throws culturally appropriate pedagogy out the window.  Schools in Black and Latino neighborhoods, and students in those communities, are to be rated strictly on the basis of standardized tests developed for all schools in the country. Not only is there no incentive to teach Black and Latino history; but putting an emphasis on such subjects, to the exclusion of materials on the test, would be to commit professional and pedagogical suicide
2. It treats public schools in low income communities and communities of color as disposable, to be closed and replaced if they don’t perform on the tests described above, rather than as vital community institutions to be strengthened, nurtured and opened to new constituencies
3. It pushes any kind of social justice organizing to the side as a diversion from the mission of schools which is to reduce gaps in test performance as determined by a national pool of schools and students
   Despite these significant departures from strategies once widely accepted in Black and Latino communities, strategies employing high stakes testing and school and teacher accountability targeted to results on national and international tests  have, over the past 13 years, commanded wide support in Black and Latino communities, especially among Civil Rights Leaders and elected officials, and have been institutionalized in the Race to the Top policies of the Obama Administration.
   This, we would suggest, has produced some truly tragic consequences, so much so that we think it is time to revisit the policies put forward for schools in Black and Latino Communities 20 years ago..