Basketball, concerts and now … charter school testing rallies? Success Academy takes over the Barclays Center

The Barclays Center in Brooklyn has hosted sold out Jay-Z concerts, Brooklyn Nets basketball games — and now a charter school testing pep rally.

Success Academy, the city’s largest and most controversial charter school network, held its annual “Slam the Exam” event at the massive arena on Friday. As some parents prepare the opt their children out of the next week’s New York state English and math tests, the rally was designed to energize more than 4,000 Success students to tackle the exams.

The spectacle also mirrored the charter network’s growth. “Slam the Exam” has expanded year after year, moving from the Washington Heights Armory, to City College of New York to Radio City Music Hall to the 19,000-seat Barclays Center this year — its grandest pro-testing gesture to date.

The network’s thousands of dancing, singing and cheering children filled up less than half of the Barclays Center, but the rally had all the trappings of a major sporting event. Giant screens told students to ‘Slam the exam.’ Instead of rooting for the home team, the emcees yelled, “Make some noise if you love math!”

Success Academy hosts its annual “Slam the Exam” rally at the Barclays Center. (Monica Disare)

“You know, pep rallies, as was mentioned earlier, is usually for sports,” Moskowitz said. “And sports are great and fun and we should always have rallies for sports, but we’re having a rally to celebrate academic growth.”

Success Academy is known for its excellent test scores, but has also been criticized for focusing too much time, effort, and energy on excelling at exams. Buying out the Barclays Center to celebrate testing will do little to quiet those critics. And Success Academy officials would not say how much the event cost or whether the money was raised through a donation or came out of the network’s own funds.

At least one principal defended the location, which she said helped educators motivate students for the tests next week.

“The Barclays definitely has a lot more of a cool factor for them,” said Regina Loftus, principal of Success Academy Bergen Beach. “Athletes practice, show up for a big game. Performers practice, show up for a big show. They’re practicing and next week is their big game.”

The rally stood in sharp contrast to the state’s active opt-out movement, which led nearly one in five families to boycott state tests last year. That number is lower in New York City, where less than four percent of families boycotted the exams.

Still, New York City parents who resent the state’s emphasis on testing are an energized and vocal group. In response to new Chancellor Richard Carranza’s statements this week that opting out of tests is an “extreme reaction,” many parents said they were disappointed in his response.

Moskowitz did not comment on the new chancellor in her speech and did not take questions from reporters.