Students, teachers show up for protest of PARCC tests

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Education> LAHS to start testing early next week

By Tris DeRoma

When people think of a protester, they usually picture someone who’s noisy, rowdy and sometimes violent, with plenty of sign waving and personal confrontation.
However, some Los Alamos High School students had a different idea when they decided to protest a new type of assessment test they will be taking next week.
Called the “Partnership For Assessment Of Readiness For College And Careers” exam, (PARCC) the test replaces the Standards Based Assessment (SBA) test, the test the high school students have been taking since elementary school.
About 70 students assembled peaceably in the school’s lobby around 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
A pair of them, Evan Oro and Katy Stockton handed out a 3-page argument what’s wrong with the test, as well as a tip sheet for teachers on how they too could protest the test by skewing the results to “demonstrate (the New Mexico Public Education Department’s) arbitrary use of numbers and how the system can be totally manipulated.”
Then, all of the students, as well as a few teachers staged a “sit-in” as school district officials, including LAHS Principal Debbie Belew-Nyquist and Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt engaged the students in conversation about their feelings about PARCC.
About 20 minutes after the protest started, a large group of athletes from the Hilltopper girls track and field team joined the handful of students in the lobby, along with the team’s coach and LAPS teacher Paul Anderson.
With their message delivered, the students, after about an hour, quietly disassembled without incident and went back to their usual routine.
According to Oro and Stockton, their mission, to bring attention to what they said was wrong with the test, was successful.
Oro said the protest was about getting the attention of Los Alamos’ state legislators, as well as the attention of Hanna Skandera, secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department, and Governor Susana Martinez.
Students in the Santa Fe Public Schools walked out of PARCC testing earlier this month, which bolstered the resolve of the organizers.
“With the walkouts in Santa Fe and elsewhere, we want to draw attention to this issue and put it on the front page of their newspapers so they will have to address this issue.”
Stockton said the sit-in was also about achieving real change in how the test impacts the futures of teachers and students.
“We want to change the way it affects teacher’s pay and their grade based on how their students do,” said Stockton. “I think that’s a really dangerous thing to do, because teachers will only want to teach upper level kids, seeing us more as dollar signs than as students.”
Stockton also said students did not like how the test was suddenly introduced to them. she said that even though they were given practice tests, they still thought NMPED could’ve been more gradual in its introduction so as to give both teachers and students more time to prepare for an exam that counts a lot toward not only a teacher’s performance grade, but a student’s academic future as well.
After talking with many students during the demonstration, Schmidt he sympathized with them.
“I’ve talked to dozens of students who I think are here to educate our community very purposefully on their concerns and the uncertainty on a test they’ve never taken. It’s an unknown, and I think the unknowingness has created stress,” he said, adding that he’s heard from many students that PAARC is taking time away from their studying for their advanced placement and end of course exams, exams that place even higher stakes on their academic careers than PAARC.
He added however that when they do start taking the test next week, they will score well without any problems.
“At the end of the day, they are going to find that the test is something they are academically prepared to take,” he said.
Schmidt said he is also going to try and get the sit-in’s representatives, Oro and Stockton an audience with key legislators and NMPED officials about the matter at a later date.
“What we will do next is let them take the test,” Schmidt said. “The students are articulate, they seem passionate and I think when people have a message that is articulated in a persuasive, compelling fashion, we need to take these young people to an audience beyond our community,” Schmidt said. “It would seem appropriate that if an audience were made available to the secretary of education and certainly the legislative education study committees that convene in the summer, I think there’s an opportunity to say to them ‘here’s our experiences, here’s what we think about it and here are some things we recommend.’”