Over the course of my career I have had the opportunity to see our public education system from nearly every vantage point. As a veteran teacher in two major cities, I have always prioritized monitoring my students' outcomes through several lenses, including statewide assessments. Last month, as the new deputy director of MarylandCAN, I was excited to take my first crack at collecting and analyzing Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) data for my home state.
Though only one piece of the complex puzzle educators use to identify student progress, these assessments are considerably important in establishing whether students are achieving the skills mastery critical to their educational success. As I sifted through the website that houses PARCC data, I felt my heart and stomach begin to sink.
In looking at state trends across grades 3-11 in math and English courses, these data show that Maryland is providing African-American children an extremely inequitable education. Despite many educators' relentless efforts, we led 38 percent of white 7th-grade students to meet or exceed math standards this year but only led 8 percent of African-American 7th-grade students to meet or exceed the same standards. And while we led 52 percent of white 3rd-grade students to meet or exceed English standards, we only led 23 percent of their 3rd-grade African-American counterparts to meet or exceed Maryland English standards.
Reviewing, processing and truly understanding the implications of these data took me back to the overwhelming emotions I felt when I learned that Freddie Gray had been slain in Baltimore. The truth is that I am not so different from these students. I grew up in Maryland in a single-parent home and received reduced-price lunch well into my middle school years. My siblings and I viewed school as our "ticket" to a brighter future. And because of my mother's relentlessness and the teachers and coaches who pushed us beyond mediocrity, we proudly wear the banner of first-generation college graduates.
There are certainly those who find fault with PARCC data, standardized assessments or the notion that schools alone can address the trauma African-American children in Maryland experience routinely. But we cannot address a problem that we do not see. Just as I am thankful for the emerging policies that require police officers to wear body cameras — policies that introduce transparency and accountability in law enforcement — I am thankful for assessments such as PARCC that provide us quantitative data to indicate how our schools actually perform when it comes to meeting our children's needs.
The truth is that these data validate the need for policies that promote race-equity in education. Achievement gaps in PARCC data show that across grade levels our current system does not provide all students and families the tools they need for growth and prosperity. Parents should never have to worry that their African-American children will not come home safely at the end of the day. In the same way, when parents send their children to school, they should not have to worry that their children will leave the classroom ill-equipped to compete academically, succeed professionally or thrive personally.
As an African-American woman, I am personally devastated to see that so few African-American children are receiving the public education I did. As deputy director of MarylandCAN, I am now more committed than ever to advocating for policies that will empower our hard-working principals and teachers to lead our children to achieve at high levels.
After years of violence and pain, we have begun a national conversation to ensure our communities and our law enforcement support and protect our children. It is time to start a real conversation in Maryland about what we must do to support and nurture our children. I challenge anyone who cares about the future of children across this state to join MarylandCAN in advocating for policies that will end the racial injustices apparent in this year's PARCC data and in our education policies.
Jenese Jones is deputy director of MarylandCAN; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.