guinea pigs

Brandishing pineapples, parents and students target Pearson

Parents and children rally against the field testing.
Weeks of awareness-raising by groups alarmed by an extra round of state tests this year culminated in a mass protest against the test-maker’s Midtown headquarters today.

The parents and children who attended the rally came from some of the 61 elementary and middle schools where anti-testing activists said families were boycotting “field tests” from Pearson, which began on Tuesday.

Over 400 parents and children protested Pearson’s field tests, which are intended to help design future tests.The company has a $32 million state contract to produce tests.

Parents at the protest — many from the Upper West Side, Brownstone Brooklyn, and Lower Manhattan — said they are fed up with the number of tests that their children have to take. Parent organizations such as Change the Stakes, Time Out From Testing, and Parent Voices New York helped build support against the field tests.

“We organized classroom by classroom, school by school,” said Michael Ravitch, a parent from P.S. 321 in Brooklyn. “Many of these parents haven’t been politically involved before but everyone shares this feeling and needed an outlet to express their disgust for these useless and meaningless tests that are eating up the resources of these schools and wasting our children’s time.”

“I thought maybe there’d be 50 people here,” said Ravitch, who is the son of vocal education activist, Diane Ravitch. “I hope that this is just the beginning.”

“Tests had their time and place for the last couple of decades but they’re absolutely taking over teaching and learning, and it just seems crazy,” said Dohra Ahmad, a parent at P.S. 261, which rallied against standardized testing in May. The school principal, Zipporiah Mills, supported the boycott by refusing to administer Pearson’s test this week.

Children who boycott the field test will not be punished but those that sit out of state tests will be assessed by their class work, which could be more subjective.

Tiny voices also echoed out the rally’s slogans as hundreds of children joined in the colorful protest, many carrying pineapple signs, in alluded to a problematic test questions that earned Pearson ridicule this spring.

“It’s not fair that my teacher had to take away so much time from teaching us just to give us these tests and grade them,” said Max Servetar, a sixth grade student at M.S. 54, who didn’t take the field test that his class was scheduled to take yesterday.

“It certainly seemed like they had plenty of opportunity to field test the kids without putting them through another session of testing, “added Beth Servetar, Max’s mother, who is the PTA vice-president at P.S. 87.

The protest didn’t include teachers or principals, according to Jane Hirschmann, who co-chairs Time Out From Testing.

“We really made this a parent led movement because parents never have a voice, and we thought it was time,” said Hirschmann. “In two short weeks, we had to get the word out and we were able to do it. The more parents hear about it, the more outraged they become because our kids are totally over tested.”

One mother, Jessica Dineen, said she noticed that more parents are becoming involved with high-stakes protests.

“What we’re really happy about is that there seems to be a ground swell this year,” added Dineen, whose children attend Brooklyn New School. “Parents with kids in kindergarten are activating on this issue. The time to do it would be now.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.