Have you ever heard the term “acceptable loss?” It recently was introduced to me when I attended a conference on education.
When I googled the term, I found out that it is most often used in military parlance to indicate casualties or destruction inflicted by the enemy that is considered minor or tolerable. Basically, it’s the cost of doing business and the acknowledgment that somebody is likely to get hurt in the process.
I can’t imagine referring to any human life as an acceptable loss.
The way it was used in reference to education had to do with the lowest-performing quartile of students who take the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA). At this point, I have to confess that I am a pastor, not an expert in education.
But, one has to wonder what kind of kids fall into that lowest quartile? As a parent of an exceptional-needs child, I know at least one child who resides in that quartile. And I don’t think it would be a stretch to imagine that many children with exceptional needs are there as well.
Usually the terms “standardized” and “exceptional” don’t mesh well with each other. Many “exceptional” students are brilliant mathematicians and creative thinkers who simply cannot express what they know the same way the rest of us do.
Who else might be there in that bottom quartile? I wonder if students who are homeless, who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, who come to school as a refuge from domestic violence or are putting in their best efforts into these tests? It seems like taking that kind of test wouldn’t rank high on their survival priority list.
Anybody else who might be there? What about our English Language Learners? How do you think you’d do on a test that is only given in a language that you’ve only started using in the last six months?
And understand that these are high stakes tests. If you don’t pass it in third grade, you are at risk for retention — even if you are a straight-A student. Don’t pass this one test in 10th grade and you put your graduation in jeopardy — even if you have a 3.0 GPA.
And yes, if you fail (for many in that lowest quartile), there are some alternative options (that take some effort and knowledge on the part of the adults involved) — but you have to fail first on a standardized test where it would be obvious to anyone that you are not the standard.
In the church world, we don’t use the term “acceptable loss” or anything that even remotely sounds like it. That’s because there is no “acceptable loss” for Jesus.
When the Gospel of John says, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” it means that everyone matters to God.
In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus demonstrates that he will not tolerate “acceptable loss.” He leaves the 99 to go after the one, not because He doesn’t love and value the 99, but because the one is lost and needs him and the 99 will not be a whole until the one returns.
Likewise, when the woman loses one of her silver coins, she goes to extraordinary lengths to recover it because she recognizes its value. Every sheep matters. Every coin matters. Every kid matters.
Like I said, I am not an expert in education, nor am I someone who thinks “everybody deserves a trophy.” And I am sure that there are many who could argue the value and merit of standardized testing as it is currently practiced in Florida.
All I’m saying is that if I never hear the term “acceptable loss” again, it will be too soon. No child is an acceptable loss in the Kingdom of Heaven and they shouldn’t be one in the Kingdom on Earth either.
The Rev. Dr. Hope Italiano Lee, lead pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church and The Well, can be reached at 941-794-6229, email@example.com or biggreenchurch.org. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.