As our congressional delegation prepares to return to our nation’s capital and tackle the hard work of strengthening our education system, we call on them to update and strengthen the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind), to ensure that all children have access to the excellent education, from pre-K through graduation, that will prepare them for a life of their choosing – in college and career.
Across the nation and here in Connecticut, while we’re making progress, we haven’t yet achieved that vision.
As the executive directors of Hartford Urban League and Teach For America – Connecticut, we know that a child’s zip code too often predicts the quality of public education she can access, and thus unjustly predicts her life prospects. This harsh truth is evident in our statewide assessments that allow us to compare student performance across our school districts and our state’s results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
For example, in 2013, fourth-grade black students in Connecticut had an average score that was 34 points lower than white students in reading. Similarly, Hispanic fourth- grade students in our state had an average reading score that was 29 points lower than white students.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was far from perfect. But nobody can disagree that we have also seen some strong results.
According to the NAEP, since 2001, fourth-grade African-American students nationally saw an increase of 20 points in reading and Hispanic 9-year-olds saw an increase of 15 points. Similarly, in math, African-American 9-year-olds gained 15 points, and Hispanic students of the same age increased by 21. While those numbers are exciting to see nationally, we have a long way to go, particularly here in Connecticut where we continue to show some of the largest gaps in the nation.
At a time when coalitions, community groups, faith-based leaders, educators, and parents across the state are committed to addressing this injustice in significant ways, this is a moment of great need and great opportunity. It is more important than ever that all students have the right for their progress to be regularly and comparatively assessed so that we can tackle the inequities that persist.
For this to happen, federal reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act must maintain the requirement for an annual statewide assessment as well as continue to require states to disaggregate student achievement data across our diverse student population.
Annual statewide assessments are necessary so that data can be compared fairly across school districts from Fairfield to Bridgeport. We must stay committed to ensuring that all of our students, no matter their zip code or family income, get a quality education that will give them a fair shot.
We know that shared expectations for all of our children measured by a shared statewide assessment are critical in gauging how our schools and children are progressing and ensuring that parents, educators, and policymakers have the information they need to make good decisions. At the same time, we agree that we must get better at how we’re assessing our students.
It’s imperative that testing does not eat significantly into instructional time, that tests measure progress, are age and grade appropriate, and are culturally relevant for our diverse student bodies.
As we work to ensure that our education system benefits all students equally, it is also necessary that we have clear information on the student achievement and graduation rates for all of Connecticut’s students. The disaggregation of data will allow us to promote equitable academic outcomes for groups that have historically and systemically had less access to educational opportunities including students receiving special education services, those identifying as low-income, English-language learners, as well as under-represented racial and ethnic groups.
From our nation’s first law school to the first academy in New England for African-American women to the first American School for the Deaf, Connecticut has a long history of expanding access to educational opportunities to all of our citizens. We call on members of our Congressional delegation to help progress move forward, and not roll backwards.
This will only happen with a law that strengthens our ability to ensure that all —not just some— of our students are succeeding.