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Why should we keep our state exams? Because they shine a light on the path toward education equity

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others thinking and writing about public education.

Last month, the Colorado Children’s Campaign released its annual Kids Count data, highlighting the challenges and opportunities facing kids across the state. Among the data was the startling fact that children of color in Colorado are more than three times as likely to live in poverty than their white peers with more than one in three Latino children living in a family of four earning less than $23,500.

This has implications not only for these children, but also for our state’s prosperity and future development as our population changes and becomes more diverse.

As Coloradans committed to our great state, we know that our future relies on ensuring that every child in this state has access to the best education and is held to the highest standards possible. Believing that what gets measured gets improved, it is critical that we shine a light on where we are achieving high educational outcomes and where we can do better.

Real progress has been made in the past several years in Colorado as a result of an increased focus on educational disparities and the promise of improved tools to address them. According to statewide assessments administered in Colorado, 23 percent of low-income students were proficient or advanced in math in 2004. Today that rate has risen to 40 percent. Grade level proficiency in reading increased from 44 percent to 52 percent in the same period.

Of course, testing didn’t accomplish these gains — dedicated educators, supportive parents and hard-working kids did.

But without annual assessments, we would not have consistent, comparable data on how every child is progressing and how well schools and districts are serving them. Not knowing makes it easier for gaps in student learning to go unidentified and unaddressed.

Consistent assessment data provide a big-picture view of student learning and allow districts and schools to tailor their resources and focus them accordingly.

The Colorado Academic Standards set high expectations for every child, no matter where they live or their background. The assessments aligned with those standards tell parents whether their children are reaching their highest academic potential.

Recently parents, educators, advocates and policymakers have joined in a robust conversation about the value of testing in public schools.

We agree that too much testing is not an effective use of time or resources, and that assessments should be streamlined and improved to provide better and more timely feedback. We agree that “teaching to the test” must evolve into teaching kids the skills they need to excel in the 21st century, and then measuring progress against that goal.

We’re discouraged, though, to see much of the current discourse in education focused on eliminating some basic measures that allow us to shine a light where problems exist by measuring student growth consistently and comparing performance across all students. These discussions miss the point that the ultimate goal of assessment is to ensure that kids in every community of our state are being prepared for future success.

As a nation, we don’t have a particularly strong track record of holding ourselves accountable for the achievement of all kids. There was a time when low-income, minority and disabled students weren’t held to the same expectations as their peers or were excluded from access, opportunity, and assessment altogether.

We stand firm on consistent testing for every child because we know that the data provided by annual assessments will help teachers, parents and students focus attention and resources more precisely. A combination of streamlined annual assessments, transparency around results, and real accountability for schools to improve outcomes for all children has helped create urgency, momentum, and results. That momentum is critical to a stronger and more equitable system for all of our kids and a brighter future for our state.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.