Weeks from now millions of American youth will graduate from high school hopeful about their future and excited about starting their college careers. U.S. classrooms and graduating classes are increasingly diverse; one in four American high school graduates today are Latino and in the next seven years, one out of every three students across the nation will be Hispanic. We have made great strides over the last decade in advancing high school graduation rates for Latino students, but too many Latino students do all that we ask of them in high school only to discover that they still aren’t prepared for college. Our high schools have to do more and do better for all American children, especially in light of the demographics that are changing the face of the country, and that’s what concerns me most about the emergence of the opt-out movement.

As the head of the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, I believe that calling for Latino families to opt out of annual assessments that provide important information about our students’ educational progress is at best unfair and at worst disgraceful. No parent wants to see their children graduate from high school with high hopes only to see them struggle to complete college. Yet today many Latino parents have to live through this experience. While 90% of Latino parents believe that attaining a postsecondary degree is very important, less than one out two Latino students finish college in six years. So while some have spoken out against the college and career ready goals called the Common Core State Standards, Latino families understand that even if our kids may struggle a bit now, they will emerge ready to succeed when they reach college. That’s a powerful thing.

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NCLR was one of the first civil rights organizations to embrace standards-based reforms in the 1990s because we were deeply frustrated with schools failing our children and then blaming them and their parents for the achievement gap. When the nation’s primary federal education law was being drafted in 2001, advocates for students of color and low-income communities fought hard for annual statewide tests that would provide quality data about student performance. Before then, we had no formal way to know which students were on track to succeed. And without accountability, states and school districts were able to avoid testing the students they believed would not perform well. In other words, schools opted out of rigorous standards for our children when our parents demanded better education for their children.

There is no denying that there have been some challenges rolling out improved tests across the country, including technical issues and insufficient outreach to communities where the new tests were being introduced. And some Latino parents are also worried about potential over-testing. Yet the continued gaps in college readiness and completion for Latino students has compelled us to fight hard to keep annual assessments as part of the education reform law just passed in December. I believe that the results from these once-a-year tests—combined with regular report cards and student-teacher conferences—can alert teachers and parents when students are falling behind, and show students what they need to do to catch up with their classmates. This type of clear information and individualized support is especially important for students of color and students from low-income families. It also matches well with the high expectations and high hopes of Latino parents and their desire to hold schools accountable for providing their children with a quality education that prepares all students evenly for college and successful careers. 

But in states like New York, anti-testing supporters have been using Spanish-language robocalls and even trucks emblazoned with opt-out messages to drive through more than 100 school communities. These activists are more focused on overstating problems and spreading fear about testing than on helping Latino students graduate ready for college. What proponents of opting out misunderstand is that for Latinos, success in the United States has always meant opting in and fully participating in our country’s ongoing quest to improve. So as we work to make sure that students are not overtested and that test results are not misused, opting children out of exams entirely is not the answer. We owe it to all of our children to help them achieve their dreams.


Janet Murguía is President and CEO of NCLR (National Council of La Raza)