Testing bill would dim the light on state’s most vulnerable students
Sep 25, 2013 | By Ama Nyamekye / commentary
I was an immigrant when I entered this country and our public school system. Because of my “funny accent,” I was too embarrassed to speak or read aloud in class and my school threatened to hold me back a year for remediation. It was not until my father demanded that I be tested that I was classified as being gifted, the top of my class. And suddenly, a door of access and opportunity was opened for me.
As a teacher, I recognize now how lucky I was to have found and entered that door—lucky to have parents and teachers who had the guts and the information to advocate for my education. I learned that the test was a critical tool to provide my teachers and parents with information that could be used to support my learning. With my students, I strived to leverage a variety of tools in the classroom—inspired and effective instruction, a range of teacher-created assessments as well as standardized testing, and parent advocacy to shed a brighter light on the unique needs and talents of my students. Removing any part of that combination would have limited my ability to offer students increasing rigor, support and opportunity.
Unfortunately, the Legislature has passed a bill that dims the light of information teachers use to better understand and advocate for our students. Assembly Bill 484 would suspend the use of state testing, limiting our access to information used to help identify the students in need of special services or intervention because they are at risk of falling behind or those eligible for selective programs and schools that might better meet their needs. The tests also help us to make informed decisions about the readiness and remediation needed for college placement and gauge the performance of our students in relation to their peers across the state.
That’s why Educators 4 Excellence joined several community organizations in urging Governor Brown to veto AB 484. Under this bill, parents, like my own father, won’t have state information to understand and advocate for their child’s special needs. Even more troubling, our state leaders are considering eliminating information at the precise moment teachers across the state are calling for increased family engagement and involvement to support critical work in the classroom. This bill removes a tool used to help parents have honest and meaningful conversations with their children, school leaders and teachers about areas for celebration and growth.
The goal of the bill is to provide a path to learning standards that are based on the more rigorous and meaningful Common Core. That’s the right goal—but eliminating all test data for up to two years while we transition to Common Core is the wrong way to achieve a worthy goal. Instead, we need a reasonable plan that does not leave parents, students and teachers in the dark as we transition to Common Core standards.
Teachers, particularly those working with high-needs students, need ongoing training, technology tools and regular feedback to make the transition to new standards. This spring, E4E teachers offered a rational middle-ground proposal to address the need to quickly get our schools “Common Core-ready,” proposing and advocating for Los Angeles Unified School District to create a leadership opportunity for teachers who are trained to be peer leaders and in-school trainers around Common Core. This position is now included in the district’s newly passed Common Core budget as “teacher advisers,” to support implementation on the school level. It’s an example of one way we can build upon and leverage the talent in our schools to address the large learning curve that is inevitable as we make this shift.
As an advocate for teachers and students, I worry any time we talk about removing tools and information from our schools. Let’s be clear, when we threaten to dim the light of information and transparency in public education, we are leaving our most vulnerable stakeholders in the dark. Our most vulnerable stakeholders are students with special needs, children living in foster care, English language learners and those in high-poverty schools. These are the very students who need access to more—not less—information and resources to support their growth and advancement.
Families like mine—those struggling to make ends meet and attain the American Dream—have the most to lose in this legislative battle. Access to information coupled with the fearless advocacy of my parents and teachers helped me find my voice and grow as a learner and then become a gifted elementary school student, a talkative honors student and a graduate at the top of my college class. The pursuit of information and equity inspired me to become an English teacher in our public school system and work as an advocate committed to ensuring all students can find and open doors of opportunity.
Ama Nyamekye is the executive director of Educators 4 Excellence: Los Angeles, a teacher-led organization with a nationwide network of 12,000 teachers. She holds a Master’s in Teaching from Pace University and a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. She founded Turn the Page, a library and literacy project that serves 17 prison libraries and classrooms in California.