A Word to My Fellow Hispanic Pastors: A Simple Way Christians Can Improve Public Schools for Teachers and Students

Parents, pastors, politicians – we all agree on one thing:

We want our children to attend the best schools.

Improvement of our public education school system, just like any other organization or institution, can only happen through intentional, informed, and at times bold decisions by our leaders in public education. Yet, what can Hispanic faith leaders do to ensure that our state boards of education and district officials make knowledgeable decisions of a caliber different from those overtly determined by political philosophy or party platform? The best way is to ensure that education policy-makers have access to meaningful student information that can be compared across different students, and states get much of this information from annual tests.

This is why the Faith and Education Coalition supports high-quality assessments. High-quality statewide assessments are one measure that public schools can continue to use to measure how students are performing against college and career readiness standards, which we hope your state supports. With feedback from these tests, students, parents, educators and policymakers can gain strong insight into two critical areas: (1) how the student is performing and (2) how well schools are serving allstudents. With yearly information from assessments aligned to state standards, not only are parents and policy-makers able to make well-informed choices about how to best support their students, they also provide valuable information to teachers who use the information for their individualized instruction in the classroom. This is all the more important for those students who come from traditionally underserved communities.

According to the Every Students Succeeds Act, which was welcomed with by-partisan support, schools are mandated to test all of their students, have a 95 percent participation rate, and include low testing participation into school ratings. Yet, there are many states which affirm the parents’ right to have their students “opt out” of tests (as Oregon does). Recently, in Texas 2,000 students did not take the statewide assessment, which is nothing compared to 240,000 in New York and 100,000 in Colorado. According to one source, nationally, as many as 670,000 students did not take their state assessment.

We will always affirm the parents right to choose what’s best for their child’s education,but we would be amiss if we did not communicate the deleterious effects this might have for their student’s school when school districts do not have access to important information and measurements that are provided from high-quality assessments. The time is now, especially for low-income minority communities, to affirm the use of high-quality assessments and to encourage student participation in these tests, regardless of the stress and difficulty these tests may have on students.

With 55 percent of Americans sayingthat schools in low-income areas have lower expectations for their students than schools in more affluent areas, with two-thirds of Americans in favor of the annual testing of students in math and English language arts in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and with nearly four out of five parents in favorof annual assessments and 73 percent in support of comparable assessments among states and school districts, the general public debate on Standards and Assessments has moved on. Moving forward, as faith leaders in our communities we need to encourage our states to keep consistency in their high standards and to make sure teachers have the time and support they need to increase rigor in their classroom for all students.

I began by asking what can Hispanic faith leaders do to help our schools make better informed decisions in order to support our teachers and students. If you live in a state where politicians or organizations are urging parents and students to refuse to take the annual test, I would urge you to encourage your Hispanic parents and students to “opt in” to high quality assessments. Our commitment to high standards of educationand high-quality assessmentsaligned to college and career readinessstandards shows our intention to justly ensure that allstudents are prepared for their futures beyond high school, wherever God may lead them. Don’t preach “opt out,” preach “opt in.”

For truth and justice,

Rev. Girien Salazar
Director, Faith and Education Coalition – NHCLC

James 1:2-4
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.