Why No Child Should Be Left Behind

Transparency in Education Helps Drive Equity
by Dr. Michael Lomax | ViewPoints | Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why No Child Should Be Left Behind in Education

For decades, civil rights groups such as the United Negro College Fund have fought to draw attention to the injustices that continue to plague America. Over the years, we have encountered resistance to our efforts to unearth truths we would rather not confront.

Lately, the issue has surfaced in the field of public education, with various voices calling for an end to annual testing and a weakening of accountability that was set up to protect disadvantaged students, including communities of color.

In recent days, Marc Tucker, who heads up the National Center on Education and the Economy called on civil rights groups to rethink their commitment to testing and accountability. A few days later, several other voices leaned in with the same thought.

Neither piece is convincing but both are threatening to children at risk. Before No Child Left Behind, the poor performance of low-income children and children of color was mostly invisible. Annual testing, along with transparency around the results, brought an end to this culture of silence. Our children are all the better for it.

Think of annual testing as a photo album documenting the growth of a child through the years. Tucker and those aforementioned others propose reducing that album into a mere snapshot whereby a sample of children is tested periodically. Essentially, some kids would never appear in the photo album, while others would have big gaps. Gone would be the ability to measure growth and track students’ progress over time. In its place a paltry measurement ill equipped to tell us how all our children and our schools are really doing.

Simply allowing states and districts to create their own confusing patchwork of assessments with few consistent learning standards did not serve vulnerable children well. It still does not. When you have states gaming the system by finding ways to conceal underperformance or siphon money away from poorer districts, federal intervention is not only warranted, but essential to ensure that schools identified as struggling receive the extra resources they need to help their students.

The startling findings from a report by the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights shows how derelict states were in holding themselves accountable before annual testing and NCLB. At least 30 states did not disaggregate their reporting and often reported an “average score,” concealing achievement gaps of students of color, English-language learners, and the disabled. Two particularly egregious examples of this was Texas failing to include half of its disabled students and Nevada leaving out 58 percent of its English language learners.

We cannot return to a system that allows states to engage in subterfuge by excluding entire groups of children and averaging results over multiple years or across grades. If we care about equity in our schools, we cannot acquiesce to deceit.

Some of these same voices pushing back on accountability are also encouraging parents to opt-out of standardized tests. Here too, the impetus is not coming from communities of color but mostly from wealthier, white, middle-class suburbs -- people whose zip codes are more likely to ensure a quality education for their children.

While we have seen significant gains in test scores, high school graduation and college enrollment rates, African American and Latino students still lag behind their peers on almost every important indicator. We need actionable data throughout elementary school to see where students are veering off course, so we can intervene before it is too late. 

To undo annual testing is to turn back the clock on civil rights, harkening back to the days, not so long ago, when entire institutions could tell lies of omission. Annual testing gives us an honest reckoning of where our children stand, whether we like it or not.


Since 2004, Dr. Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D. has been President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Negro College Fund, the nation’s largest private provider of scholarships and other educational support to African American students and a leading advocate of college readiness: students’ need for an education, from pre-school through high school, that prepares them for college success.

Photo credit: Rustem Gurler 


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