It’s Also Not about Equality

Part II of the Series:  Testing as a Civil Rights Strategy is Not About Achievement

If you put students across the socioeconomic spectrum together in the same room with each other and then gave them the same instruction, particularly the same improved instruction, the achievement gap would prevail.  While this improved instruction should influence improvement in the achievement of those students who have underperformed, it should also influence improvement in the achievement of those who have performed at higher rates in the past.  Logically speaking, improved instruction should generally improve the performance of all students.

The only way to close what is commonly discussed as the achievement gap, it would be necessary to improve the instruction of the lower achieving group while maintaining the same grade of instruction for the higher achieving group.  This means, in order to close the gap (which means changing the degree of separation between the performances of the two groups), the higher achieving group would then need to be subjected to inferior instruction.

For those of you who are science geeks, the issue embedded in this consideration of equality relates to a simple case of physics. It can best be best understood through the concept of speed versus velocity.

  • Speed deals with the amount of distance covered in a given amount of time.
  • Velocity deals with the change of positioning in a given amount of time.

In other words, we can only close the achievement gap by increasing the position of the lower achieving group in relation to the position of the higher achieving group.  But, in order to advance the position of the lower achieving group, we must ensure that the higher achieving group does not advance.

This strategy, of increasing the position of one group and not the other is at the heart of our concern for equality.  It just does not seem logical for us (well those of us who have legitimate constitutions for fairness) to champion a strategy that upon closer inspection is ultimately about denying all students access to improved instruction. Giving socioeconomically disadvantaged students access to quality education should be about just that—quality education.  To base this pursuit on closing a gap (ironically generated by tests designed to create a gap) seems counterintuitive and a violation to those values of equality that we truly champion as civil rights activists.

As I close, I want to make myself clear that my position against test based accountability as a civil rights strategy is not one against accountability (absolutely not) and frankly, it isn’t one against testing.  It’s about standing against those who argue that testing (as the primary means for improving the quality of education for historically underserved students) is a civil rights issue.  I just don’t see how this can be true when the inherent nature of tests is to sort, separate and rank.  Yes, we as civil rights advocates should sort the data and disclose the gaps.  Of course and I am not suggesting otherwise!  What I am saying is that the test is designed to create the gap in the first place… to always place someone at the bottom!

This system, based on someone winning and someone losing, cannot be what we are fighting for in our pursuit to give children equal access to good schooling!  In terms of speed and velocity, it is not logical.  And, in terms of equality, it is not fair!

But, because there are those with good intentions who seem hell bent on arguing that it is a civil rights issue, I suspect that it is actually about something more latent.  Please follow this blog as I continue the conversation.


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