keeping track

Final 'opt-out' numbers show movement jumped in city

PHOTO: Annette Kathryn Konoske-Graf
In April, students, parents, and teachers marched outside P.S. 87 shouting "Show us the test."

Much of the past five days have been spent picking apart the performance of 410,000 city students who took this year’s state tests. On Tuesday, city and state education officials provided more details about those who didn’t.

About 4,700 city students did not take this year’s English tests and 15,470 students didn’t take the math exams, according to an updated tally released by the State Education Department and the city Department of Education. The totals include 1,925 students whose protesting parents opted their children out of taking the tests, a 450 percent increase over last year.

More than 10,400 of those who didn’t take the math test were eighth-graders who took a high school-level math Regents exam instead, thanks to a new state policy meant to avoid overtesting.

The updated figures follow a confusing initial release of data showing that more than 22,000 city students didn’t take the English tests and 26,000 didn’t take the math tests—numbers that were immediately called into question. After a few days of fact-checking and data-sharing between the two education agencies, state spokesperson Dennis Tompkins said those numbers erroneously included thousands of private school and home-schooled students.

Even with those figures deflated, the number of students who didn’t take this year’s state tests has jumped.

A relatively small number of students don’t participate in state tests every year for reasons including long-term absences or illnesses. But an increasing number aren’t taking the exams for political reasons.

Parents who are a part of the “opt-out” movement chose to keep their students from taking the exams in opposition to the state’s adoption of the Common Core standards or to the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, school grades, and student promotion decisions. (This role of this year’s tests in all of those consequences has been reduced because of recent legislative action.)

Though the movement grew fastest in districts outside of New York City, the newest numbers indicate that it is now entrenched in city public schools. Two years ago, just 113 students opted out, and 356 did last year.

In a statement, a city spokeswoman noted that the students who opted out were still a tiny fraction of tested students.

“Less than one-half of one percent of students in grades 3-8 opted to not take the State math and ELA tests this year,” said the spokeswoman, Devora Kaye. “Listening closely to all student and parent voices is a top priority of our administration, and this is no exception. We continue to listen carefully to all families’ concerns, and we also continue to engage students, parents, and school communities to explain how the tests can play a valuable role in our most important goal: improving learning in the classroom.”

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.