talking testing

City charter school CEO to senators: Testing has its place

Democracy Prep Public Schools CEO Katie Duffy was one of seven witnesses asked to participate in a roundtable discussion in Washington.

As lawmakers look to fix the federal education law mandating standardized tests, a city charter school leader told a group of U.S. senators Tuesday that there is value in testing students throughout the year if the focus is on progress, not just proficiency.

Democracy Prep Public Schools CEO Katie Duffy was one of seven witnesses asked to participate in a roundtable discussion on fixing No Child Left Behind with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Two city teachers testified before the same group of senators less than two weeks ago, but took a more critical stance on testing.

At issue was how the federal government should hold states and schools accountable for student academic performance, since states will likely still be required to administer annual tests and report the results by specific student groups.

During the discussion, Duffy said federal officials should look to Democracy Prep’s model of setting clear expectations for students and letting individual schools meet them “by any means that they deem appropriate.” On a national scale, that would mean setting academic standards and letting states decide how to meet them, she said.

Tests are still a vital component of that model, she noted. Democracy Prep, which operates 10 charter schools in the city, uses a variety of assessments beyond New York’s state tests to measure student progress at multiple points throughout the school year.

“If we just look at an absolute proficiency once a year, we’re not actually going to be able to meet the needs of our kids because we won’t know until June what they didn’t know in January,” Duffy said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

No Child Left Behind has been criticized for its focus on using state tests to make judgments about student, teacher, school, and districts’ success.

But Duffy noted that the more frequent assessments that the charter-school network finds useful are “not entirely low-stakes.” They are used to decide whether students are promoted to the next grade level and tied to salary decisions for teachers in the network.

While Alexander said the committee is nearing its conclusions on how to renew the law, Duffy urged senators to be mindful of students in urban centers and rural districts still struggling to raise low graduation rates.

We need to ensure “we don’t leave those kids behind because we’re afraid to push forward for accountability and data,” she said.

You can read Duffy’s full written testimony here.

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.