For generations, urban communities have faced challenges that have tipped the scales against them. Through hard work and grit, exemplary youths have broken past the barriers set against them – low expectations, low scores, low hope.
Higher learning standards and quality academic assessments have opened a door of opportunity for our students, no matter where they grow up or go to school. We’ve been able to tell our kids they can achieve anything they dream – and they will have the education to get them there. Since they’ve been implemented, standards and assessments have had an undeniable impact, through deeper learning, higher test scores, significantly improved graduation rates and a fairer shot at success for all students.
But the standards and assessments in place in New York were rolled out quickly and without enough teacher and parent input and preparation, and that led to pushback and calls for change, particularly in suburban communities.
Well, education leaders in our state listened, and last month rolled out a draft set of updated standards that relied on teachers and parents in making the changes. Where information needed to be clarified, they took action and made it easier to understand. Where information needed to be streamlined, they modified and combined standards. And where there was a need to bring more balance to the standards, like adding back more fiction in reading, they did so.
The Board of Regents should accept the changes and get on with the business of better educating all children in our state.
Because remember, in the years before standards were in place, the education system failed our urban communities and our kids were left behind. In 2011, before standards were implemented, just 18 percent of African-American and 20 percent of Hispanic eighth-grade students scored at proficient levels on English language arts tests.
That’s starting to change. The numbers clearly show that since standards have been in place, scores have been on the rise. This past year, ELA scores showed impressive gains to 26.2 percent for African-American and 26.8 percent for Hispanic students.
Buffalo has seen steady improvement year after year in both ELA and math scores, setting the city on the path toward greater educational equity. More important, our children have the same expectations, are taught to the same standards and take the same assessments to measure their progress as children in suburban communities.
Quality standards and assessments shine a light on inequalities in educational opportunity and achievement gaps. As the only measure we have to compare students across the state, they are critical to leveling the educational playing field.
We can continue to turn this tide by working together to ensure standards and assessments remain in place and stronger than ever, providing equal access to quality education. Or we can listen to the voices that say no change, no improvement, is good enough.
Opponents of New York’s learning standards have demonstrated that they will never be satisfied as long as the current standards remain. Despite the updates by teachers and parents changing 60 percent of English and 55 percent of math standards – including many of the changes they specifically asked for – the voices against high standards and quality assessments remain. These opponents would still rather turn back to the old days of forgetting our communities, and telling the children of urban areas that they should settle for less.
The Regents need to support these new improvements and join us in moving forward. We cannot have the rug pulled out from the hard work and dedication of teachers, students and communities that is finally starting to bring progress to children across New York.
Brenda McDuffie is president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. Sam Radford is president of the Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council. Both are members of High Achievement New York.