Students criticize high-stakes testing, “racist” education system

PHOTO: Kate Schimel
Denver Student Union member Alex Kacsh speaks from the steps of the capitol, flanked by representatives of Project Voyce and other students.

A group of parents, teachers and observers gathered on the steps of the Capitol Monday evening to hear students protest high stakes testing, as part of a “State of the Student” event organized by the Denver Student Union.

“Because of the tests, we have changed the structure of classrooms and what students are allowed to do,” said Michaela Ladenburger, one of the featured student speakers and a member of the Denver Student Union, which advocates for student voices in education.

Students from schools including Denver’s Manual High School and Jeffco Open School gave impromptu or planned speeches, which ranged from takedowns of personal accounts of testing struggles to accusations of corporate profiteering.

“I’m a horrible tester,” said Manual senior Anthony Scott. “I guessed all the questions [on the ACT reading section] because I didn’t have time to read.”

Scott told Chalkbeat he was worried about the direction the education system was taking for his young nephew.

“I’ve been through the school system,” Scott said. “I haven’t learned anything I could use in my life.”

Another student said he had “been victimized by the public education system” and that the stress of testing made him fake sick starting in elementary school.

Teaching life skills was a motif in the speeches, as was the role of race and privilege in public education.

“My black and brown peers are in a system that is racist and we call it schooling” said Alex Kacsh, who attends Jeffco Open School and gave the official “State of the Student” speech.

Kacsh also criticized the role politics played in reforming education, highlighting political battles around the Front Range, from Jeffco where “the superintendent was kicked out” to Dougco “where [voters] are seeing their funds go to the charter school down the road.”

Kacsh and others said testing restricted teachers and limited the ways students could demonstrate knowledge.

He urged legislators to listen to students when they think about changing the system.

“What I see with most legislators is when you say you want to do the best for us, we’re not invited to the table,” Kacsh said.

“We’re leading the country in the wrong way,” he said, receiving applause from the small group of listeners. “Standardized testing is simply dumbing down our kids.”

Following the speeches, a group of students delivered a petition to end statewide standardized testing to the governor’s office and the Colorado Department of Education.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.