An Open Letter to New Yorkers, Particularly Those of Color

To our fellow New Yorkers:

As the statewide English Language Arts and Math assessments for grades 3 through 8 wrap up, it’s important to remember why the stakes are so incredibly high for our children. These tests form the foundation of how we achieve educational equity in New York. They provide real, hard, and accurate data that we can use to measure how our children are doing across the state – and, importantly, across demographics.

Parents of African American and Latino children have always recognized the value of the assessments. That’s why New York’s “Big 5” cities opt in to the tests in such overwhelming numbers, this year included.

However, the campaign driven by a small group urging parents to opt their children out of statewide tests threatens to do great damage to our mission of ensuring an equal education for every child no matter where he or she is growing up. This movement is essentially rejecting all objective measures of educational achievement and, subsequently, lets children, including a disproportionate number of minority children, fall through the cracks. This year’s tests were shorter, sharper, essentially untimed, and only used for diagnostic purposes. They were stronger and less stressful for children. There is always more work to be done to further improve the assessments, but it’s time for opponents to understand the incredible value these exams provide for helping us reach equality in education.

A good education – one that promotes critical thinking and actually gives students the tools they need for future employment – was and always will be a foundational goal of the civil rights movement.

Tragically, the desire to roll back Common Core is a case of history repeating itself. We cannot allow ourselves to revert to a time and place where minority children were an afterthought.

Nearly one hundred years after emancipation, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. the Board of Education found what communities of color had known for generations: the system of “separate but equal” was not only unconstitutional, but fundamentally unfair. And yet, here in New York, it took until the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s victory just nine years ago to provide equal education funding for New York City and minority students.

That lawsuit relied on standardized test scores to make the case against separate and unequal funding, with the chief litigator arguing, "From our point of view, testing has been very helpful in pinpointing the problem and showing exactly which kids are not making the grade."

The implementation of the Common Core’s higher standards and assessments across the board, regardless of school location or demographics, stood in contrast to that history. New York’s assessments give us more than just educational data, they open a window into our progress on educational equity. For instance, African American and Latino students have improved by 30 to 40 percent on the State math assessments since they were first given. But crucially, minority children still trail the statewide average by more than double digits, an achievement gap that needs to close. And state assessments let educators know who is struggling, where they are struggling, and what help we need to deliver to these communities.

Take away this tool, and we are essentially reverting to the default position of ignorance – returning us to a period of sweeping failure and into the shadows of a separate and unequal educational system. African American and Latino parents especially know and remember the old system – and how it failed to provide their kids with a quality education. And all New Yorkers benefit when our kids succeed and when we work to close gaps between them. The lessons we have learned have been hard ones, and Acts tells us that “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We have seen widespread violence to keep our children from fair and equitable education. We have heard unfulfilled promises of equality and equity. Now none of us can remain silent.

All of us have the responsibility to help all our children have a chance at a bright future.


Derrell Bradford
Executive Director
New York Campaign for Achievement Now

Tenicka Boyd
Director of Organizing
Students First NY

Brenda McDuffie
President and CEO
Buffalo Urban League

Sam Radford
Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council