Life is full of bloody tests – and we bloody well need them. As toddlers, we sought to test our environment, and we tested our parents. When we started school, we were tested on our ability to recite the alphabet. As we progressed through our education, we were tested on our vocabulary, on our comprehension of the Constitution, on differential equations.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoWhen we entered the workforce, we were tested on our ability to do our duties properly. Many of us received regular performance reviews or evaluations. If we worked in a profession that required licensing or certification, we were tested.

In short, testing is part of life. For good reason. When it comes to our children, especially kids of color, annual standardized testing is critical to gaining data on how well they are doing in school as well as how schools, systems, and adults are helping them. For children of color, annual test data (as required under the No Child Left Behind Act and state laws) is helpful in the fight for ensuring their civil rights. Without such data, all we have are anecdotes, none of which will help families and civil rights activists fight to provide our children with better schools and high-quality teachers.

The good news is that civil rights groups understand this reality. Last month, 12 of them, all with hundreds of combined years of fighting for equal rights and opportunities, issued a statement wherein they stated their opposition to efforts to discourage the utilization of standardized tests and “subverting the validity of data about educational outcomes”.

These groups, including the NAACP, the National Urban League, and National Council of La Raza, were wholly right and justified when they said that “data provides the power to advocate for greater equality under the law.” They were clear when they stated that there were “legitimate concerns” about testing in schools, but that it was critical to have objective measurements of student growth.

There is no person with the slightest cognitive ability who honestly believes that public education is equally serving all populations. As they said: “We cannot fix what we cannot measure.” What these civil rights groups declared was no different than what I wrote on these pages last October – and no different than what parents and caregivers say each and every day in their homes.

Those of us who know how important it is to actually know what is happening with our kids are praising the stance these organizations are taking. But none have been forthcoming from other quarters.

First came Mark Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy. He took to the pages of Education Week to chastise civil rights groups for supporting annual testing and accountability. Why? Because, in his opinion, annual testing “does not help [children of color].”

In a solid example of “me too!”, Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project), Schott Foundation for Public Education President John Jackson and education professor Pedro Noguera jumped onto the bandwagon with Tucker in the pages of the Hill, accusing civil rights groups and others who understand the benefits of standardized testing of believing that children can be “tested out of poverty.”

Now I will agree that Browne Dianis, Jackson, and Noguera raised some good points. They are right in saying that all too often results from standardized tests do not get into the hands of schools (and parents) for too long a time. But as Education Post‘s Chris Stewart put it on the pages of his eponymous site, they seem to be complaining that “annual assessment of student proficiency doesn’t cure cancer.” Their (not so) subtle insinuation that support for testing by civil rights groups was somehow akin to wanting to keep Rosa Parks on the back of the bus is also grating.

The good news is that others have pushed back against Tucker, Browne Dianis, Jackson, and Noguera.

Education Trust President Kati Haycock put it perfectly when she stated that the evidence for Tucker’s “assertions” were “weak” and ignored the fact that these groups have “fought against the misuse of tests for decades”. Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children smartly asserted that civil rights groups “wisely understand that the growing resistance to accountability is directly related to the fact that it’s starting to work.” This includes the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, who, as Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle reminded us yesterday, are key backers of the organizations that Brown Dianis and Jackson represent.

Tucker offered a response to the points made by Haycock and Edelman. But those, in turn, were then addressed thoroughly, honestly, directly, and completely by Morgan Polikoff of University of Southern California’s Rossier School, who pointed out that Tucker couldn’t possibly produce evidence to support his assertions because it isn’t supported by the academic research.

I am certainly not a public education policy expert like any of the folks I have cited. But I am a parent with a child in a public high school. As NEA itself points out, schools and systems that partner with families and address their concerns “sustain connections” that improve student achievement.

Being able to see if there success at “improving student achievement” means we need objective measures to ascertain how individual students and whole populations are performing. One of the obvious examples of such are (fair and comprehensive) standardized tests. These give parents a source of data to be the partners we need to be in the furtherance of our kids’ educations. The civil rights groups that support annualized testing understand this. Tucker, Browne Dianis, Jackson, Noguera, and those who back them do not.

As a parent, and as a member of the education community, I do not want to go back to the time when we did not have the objective data we needed. Are we expected to go back to that time when we simply trusted that our kids – regardless of which population group they may belong to – were getting the best education possible?

That path leads to greater mediocrity and discernment of achievement through anecdotalism.