Education Standards Must Remain A Top Priority

03/27/2017 03:24 pm ET Updated Mar 28, 2017

A child’s zip code should never determine their ability to achieve their dreams—period.

That’s why states like Louisiana have adopted higher, consistent standards to make sure all students have the opportunity to receive the high-quality education they need and deserve.

With the new administration in office, the commitment to supporting students from all walks of life is now more important than ever.

It is simply unacceptable to roll back high standards for our students, particularly when critical thinking and analytical skills are necessary to meet the demands of our evolving economy.

Data shows that the standards are working—especially for students of color.

In the past, my state of Louisiana continually ranked near or at the bottom in regards to academic attainment and graduation rates. And most concerning, Louisiana has traditionally lagged behind other states when it comes to closing the achievement gap.

Since our state adopted higher standards six years ago, however, that trend has been shifting. Students have been rising to the challenge—and the results have been encouraging. The total number of students reaching grade-level proficiency in English Language Arts and math increased from 24 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2016. It’s nowhere where it needs to be, but a 14 percentage point improvement in four years deserves attention. In addition, Louisiana’s high school graduation rate rose 2.9 percentage points in 2015 to an all-time high of 77.5 percent. And for black students, the 3.5 percentage point increase outpaced the state as a whole, with the graduation rate increasing to 71.4 percent from 67.9 percent in 2014.

We’ve seen this progress replicated in states across the country. Test scores are on the rise and the nationwide graduation rate just hit a record high of 83.2 percent. Encouragingly, black students made the biggest gains in high school diploma attainment from 2010-2015 of any subgroup.

Of course, these numbers are not nearly good enough. Our goal is to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate so that all students have the opportunity to achieve a high-paying and fulfilling career. But these gains show that more students are performing at or above their grade level and meeting higher expectations.

As President of the Urban League of Louisiana, my job is to help ensure that all students, regardless of race, ability, or economic status, have access to the same resources and opportunities as their counterparts. It’s a responsibility that is the heart of my organization. Closing the achievement gap must continue to be a national priority, and that’s why we need to continue to hold our students and teachers to high standards.

We must be vigilant to make sure this administration continues to fight to provide all children with access to the high-quality education they need and deserve.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” To maintain our nation’s competitive edge in the knowledge-based global economy, we must continue to prepare our students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. We must maintain our momentum of educational gains by upholding the high standards set for our children.

Erika McConduit is president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana.

CONVERSATIONS