state testing

City teachers testify before U.S. Senate committee on reducing testing

Earth School teacher Jia Lee is running for New York lt. governor. An advocate against high-stakes testing, she spoke about the issue in 2015 before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Two New York City teachers were among a panel of experts called to testify on testing and accountability at a U.S. Senate committee hearing Wednesday.

Earth School teacher Jia Lee and Harvest Collegiate High School teacher Stephen Lazar both spoke to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about how high-stakes testing has affected their Manhattan schools, offering frank assessments of the role testing should play in the government’s efforts to improve schools.

Up for debate was how to fix No Child Left Behind, the law that requires states to annually administer standardized tests. The law expired in 2007 but has yet to be re-authorized, and Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called for the committee to pass a bill overhauling it by the end of February.

“Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests? Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?” Alexander asked.

Lee, an outspoken critic of the state’s standardized tests and a special education teacher at the Earth School in Manhattan, told the Senate committee that test-focused policies have caused schools to become “data-driven” instead of “student-driven.”

“The great crime is that the focus on testing has taken valuable resources and time away from programming – social studies, art and physical education, special education services and [English language learners’] programs,” the fourth and fifth grade teacher said.

“As a teacher of conscience, I will refuse to administer tests that reduce my students to a single metric and will continue to take this position until the role of standardized assessments are put in their proper place,” she said. Last year, more than half of the small East Village school’s students were opted out of taking state Common Core-aligned exams by their parents, which allowed her to avoid administering them.

New York City parents opted out more than 1,900 students from taking state tests in 2014 – a 450 percent increase from the about 350 students that opted out in 2013. But the small group of students that didn’t take state tests last year still represents less than half of 1 percent of the city’s test-takers.

Stephen Lazar, an eleventh grade U.S. history and English teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in Manhattan and a member of Chalkbeat’s reader advisory board, was the last to testify. He said the new law should remove mandated high-stakes tests, limit the number of tests used for accountability purposes, and allow schools to use performance assessments.

But despite the “many well-known flaws” of No Child Left Behind, Lazar said No Child Left Behind’s requirement that schools and districts to separate out the academic performance data of different student groups put a “much-needed spotlight” on achievement gaps, something that “should not be abandoned.”

Sen. Alexander’s draft bill, released last week, would still require states to provide annual academic data for various student populations. The draft also offers options to either give states flexibility over testing or keep No Child Left Behind’s current testing requirements.

As changes to federal testing requirements are considered, Lazar emphasized that teachers voices should be the loudest when it comes to deciding how their students are assessed. He recalled apologizing to his students every May for having to spend the last month of the school year having them “repeatedly write stock formulaic essays and practice mindless repetition of facts so that they could be successful on their state exams.”

“The stakes for my students force me to value three hours of testing over a year or learning,” he said. “Standardized tests measure the wrong things.”

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

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.