On Assessments and Accountability: It’s Time We Listen to Latino Educators and Parents

By Dr. Feliza Ortiz-Licon, Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer

New Blog Template-22

Throughout the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, the array of inequities plaguing Latino students became crystal clear. The compounding impact of these inequities has prompted long overdue discussions aimed at reimagining and transforming our current education system. One conversation that has taken center stage during this time is the role of assessments in education; and in particular, how they should be utilized to measure the academic progress of students and what role they play within an accountability system. From calls to dismantle the testing industry to calls to overhaul assessments to be more holistic, relevant and student-centered, the range of options to move forward are many, but it’s clear to Latinos for Education (L4E) that there cannot be a path forward without engaging Latino parents and Latino educators in the process.

Like so many pressing issues in education, the conversation around assessments has been missing the voice and perspective of Latino families, especially that of Spanish-speaking parents and guardians. We know that Latino parents hold high aspirations for their children’s education and want to see them succeed academically. We also know that Latino teachers and educators have perspectives, innovative ideas, and the first-hand experience needed to inform the timely conversation on assessments and accountability. However, they are seldomly consulted as key stakeholder groups on this and other similar topics. Therefore, L4E decided to go straight to the source and ask Latino educators, parents and guardians about their thoughts on assessments and accountability measures.

Latinos Speak: A Candid Reflection on Assessments and Accountability presents an unbiased summary of what we heard from nearly 540 Latino parents and educators on this salient topic. The Latinos Speak report does not advocate for any particular side of the debate. Instead, the report provides an opportunity to learn from a chorus of diverse Latino voices solicited through a national survey (n=500) and three focus groups (one national and two regional virtual convenings). Barreto Segura Partners (BSP) Research conducted a random representative sample of Latino PK-12 parents/guardians and PK-12 educators. The survey was administered online and made accessible in English and Spanish to meet the language needs of respondents. The qualitative data was gathered from focus groups with teachers, educators, parents and guardians who were asked questions about their vision for education, various types of assessments, and views held on accountability. L4E approached the survey and focus group questions from a learning standpoint, not a predetermined position or quest for stamp of approval. The data gathered provides keen insights and perspectives from key Latino stakeholders. The forthcoming insights and takeaways summarize where Latinos currently stand on the topic of assessments and accountability.

The What and How of Assessments-It’s Complicated!

Though survey data shows that  assessments are important to educators and parents/guardians, the issue of how assessments are designed, administered, and used for accountability purposes is largely debated. 

For instance, 83% of survey respondents believe that statewide test results can help evaluate the quality of schools, as well as tell us how different student subgroups (such as Latinos, Blacks, English Learners, Students with Disabilities, etc.) are performing in school. BUT, teachers who participated in our focus groups overwhelmingly agree that there is an over reliance on standardized tests, which fail to acknowledge students’ individual learning needs as well as their abilities. Instead, the current suite of assessments is based on “white supremacy,” as well as “stale and irrelevant passages” that fail to consider the real world context and cultural and linguistic assets of students of color, particularly, Latino students and multilingual learners.

When looking closer at assessments, the survey data surfaced an age and gender divide among teachers and educators’ views on assessments. While teachers overall view assessments as useful and essential, their effectiveness and importance appear to have an age and gender difference. Older teachers are generally more likely to agree that assessments can improve student outcomes while younger teachers recognize that they can be useful. An estimated 80% of teachers 40+ believed that assessments are helpful in measuring a student’s ability, compared to 69% of teachers between the ages of 18-39.

In terms of gender, male survey respondents were more likely to agree (82%) than female respondents (64%) that assessments are helpful in identifying students’ areas of need. Latino men were also 12% more likely than Latina women to agree that standardized assessments can help evaluate progress towards increasing academic performance for students.

Latinos believe that school accountability is important. 

The national survey showed strong support for accountability measures to ensure that students succeed, but the data also suggest that school systems must go further than a yearly standardized assessment when holding schools accountable for student outcomes. And, who is held accountable, for what, and what accountability means, were a dominant discussion points during the focus groups. According to focus group participants, accountability without support systems, resources and investments to improve conditions, training and outcomes is just a punitive measure that negatively impacts students and educators. Instead, a comprehensive system of support and multiple metrics for accountability purposes are needed. 

Approximately 92% of Latino parents agree that schools should be evaluated by factors other than test results such as attendance, graduation and passing rates and 83% of teachers also agree that a strong school accountability system should consist of multiple measures such as attendance, suspension rates, school culture, etc. that go beyond statewide exams. Also, most Latino respondents (88%, which includes both educators and parents/ guardians), strongly agree that keeping schools accountable for the success of their students includes providing a way to ensure that Latino students receive attention as well as identifying learning gaps among student populations. 

Read Our Report on Assessment and Accountability 

Download the Report

Communication is key.

Latinos want schools to communicate more with parents. While most surveyed parents and guardians note that they receive assessment information from the state or school, 12% of Latino parents/guardians that were surveyed say they are left out and receive no information.

Understanding the information that the state or district sends about a student’s yearly performance on standardized exams is also a concern among Latino parents, with nearly 1 in 10 parents/guardians stating that they are unable to understand the most important information about their children’s test results. 

Spanish-speaking participants noted the need to remove language barriers as a top concern during the virtual focus group held with parents/guardians from Houston,TX. Parents shared that test score information received is problematic because it lacks clarity and application — meaning it’s hard for Spanish-speaking parents to understand what the information is saying about their child’s academic performance. Focus group parents/guardians also emphasized the need to humanize students through information that assesses their talents in comprehensive ways that can be easily understood by both parents and students. Moreover, these monolingual parents/guardians believe that bridging the language barrier and knowledge gap that exists with standardized assessments will help enhance their engagement levels with their children’s education. 

So what’s next?

While this was our first comprehensive examination of the Latino perspective on assessments and accountability, we know from the research that not all stakeholders are equally engaged in the current conversation. And that’s incredibly important. Immigrant parents, Spanish-speaking families and those without the knowledge of how to communicate with schools and their educators are just a few of the marginalized groups when it comes to discussing our student’s progress, providing support, and holding our systems accountable. 

It is clear that the assessment and accountability systems for our schools must evolve, and if this study showed us anything, it’s the strong desire from Latino educators, parents and guardians to be a part of this active and nuanced conversation. Latinos speak, and they want to be heard.


Dr. Feliza Ortiz-Licon is the Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer at Latinos for Education (L4E). Prior to joining L4E, Feliza served a five-year term of the California State Board of Education where she championed the passage of the asset-based, English Learner Roadmap policy.