Back to School Guide: Reclaiming Your Child’s Education (2/2)

photo courtesy of Afonso Lima
photo courtesy of Afonso Lima

Click here to read about how a student in Hartford opted out of the Connecticut Mastery Test.

The Connecticut State Department of Education website makes the No Child Left Behind threats both clear and obscure at the same time:

Schools will be responsible for improving the academic performance of all students, and there will be real consequences for districts and schools that fail to make progress.

The phrase “academic performance” is Continue reading “Back to School Guide: Reclaiming Your Child’s Education (2/2)”

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Back to School Guide: Reclaiming Your Child’s Education (1/2)

In March of 2011, the mother of a straight-A Hartford student called up the principal to say that her daughter, Caridad¹, “will not be taking the test.”

The test, in this case, happened to be the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), which is administered to all students in grades 3-8, every year. About one week is dedicated to the actual test (seven hours in all), though the level of preparation varies from school-to-school, with some assigning test prep homework all year round. Caridad, who was in the seventh grade when she opted out, attends one of the schools that puts less emphasis than others on the standardized state tests.

While this student was not the first in the nation or even the state to exercise her right to not take an exam, she may be the first in her school. When her mother contacted the principal at the school, the conversation that followed was one of “understanding,” but the administrator said that she would need to check out the legality of this action.

Initially, the Connecticut State Department of Education asked Caridad’s mother why she would not want her daughter to take the test.

When this topic is raised, the assumption made by some is that the child is lazy or a “bad student,” or, if viewed in a more sympathetic way, prone to test anxiety.

In this case, the Hartford student has none of those qualities. Caridad enjoys all of her subjects at school, naming Math and English as her favorites. When asked, she told me that her school does fun things, like reading plays aloud and working with pulleys in lab projects.

“I actually like to be tested,” she told me.

But Caridad opted out of the CMT last Spring and says she does not think she will take them in 2012 either.

What triggered this family’s choice was when Caridad’s mother read about the bonuses doled out to teachers and administrators; these were tied directly to increased standardized test scores.

“We both felt like we were being used,” Caridad said of herself and her mother. Caridad told me, “I felt like I was being trained in a match.”

Her mother started to think about how $2.7 million in bonuses was awarded when some of the schools are in such poor condition. In past years, the inability for some schools to stock toilet paper has been publicized.

Caridad’s mother decided, “I’m not going to have my child be exploited” or subjected to “mental manipulation.”

photo courtesy of David Hartman
photo courtesy of David Hartman

There were, however, concerns about what repercussions may follow. Policy information, while easy to access, is not entirely clear. Would opting out interfere with the high school application and admission process? Would teachers or administrators single out Caridad or retaliate somehow?

Standardized tests vary by state in terms of content and consequences.

What Caridad’s mother was told by officials was that if her daughter attends school on a test day, she must be provided with the test. This allows some options. Caridad could stay home, attend only when testing was finished for the day, or attend but refuse the test.

For someone who enjoys school as much as Caridad, being absent was not even an option to her.

Caridad’s mother spoke with the principal and teachers in advance to let everyone know her daughter would not be taking the CMT. Instead, Caridad would sit in the teacher’s office and work on SSAT prep materials that her mother put together for her. She would study for and work on a test at the same time as her peers; however, the SSAT will be needed when Caridad applies for high school — Watkinson is at the top of her list — in a few months.

But Caridad had to do one thing with the CMT– fill in a single bubble.

The following is a screenshot from the 58-page CMT Test Coordinator’s Manual. This outlines exactly what students in Connecticut are entitled to do:

The last sentence implies that a student’s refusal to take the test may lead to the district losing federal funding. When administrators claim that their “hands are tied,” they are referring to this penalty; instead of actively challenging  NCLB, their complicity enables the federal government to continue pressuring schools to take part in practices that few within the school system actually believe to be in the best interest of the children.

When Caridad’s mother was first told that her daughter’s school could lose federal funding, she says she “felt a little guilty with our decision” because she wanted to “advocate for schools to receive funding to improve them and our children’s education,” but, she says, “there are so many other ways that funding could be used to improve our children’s education as opposed to making corporations and others rich at the cost of all of those children who don’t test well and experience high levels of stress when test time comes around or at the cost of closing down schools that we should have been maintaining all along.”

As for the student, Caridad said that her teacher and principal did not treat her any differently afterwards. The other students were aware that she was taking a different test. Before making this decision, Caridad was prepared with the different ways she could respond if anyone reacted negatively to her at school. What actually happened was that her classmates just assumed she was taking a different test because “she’s smart,” and Caridad — smiling as she tells me this — did not say anything to correct them.

Caridad does think other students should make their own choices about whether or not to take the CMT, but that they should “know what’s going on” before making any decisions. By “what’s going on,” Caridad was referring to the practice of giving bonus pay to teachers for improved test scores in the district. She called the practice “unfair.” Her mother echoed the belief that people should be fully informed before making any choices. Caridad’s mother said parents should have “conversations with children about No Child Left Behind” because it is “important to know the history behind the CMT” and how it became a high stakes test. She added that it is important for parents to know about the bigger picture and the role of economics in all of this.

Though she does not have test anxiety, Caridad, who described herself as “very shy about things,” remarked that less shy classmates have vocalized their own nervousness about the CMT.

So much of what happens during the school year now hinges on these tests. Caridad explained how early in the school year, silver and gold medals are awarded to students who scored well on the CMT; this is done at a “community meeting” (school assembly). Students are given DRP (Degrees of Reading Power) exercises “all year,” and much more focus is given to CMT preparation after winter break. The students at Caridad’s school have 3-4pm after school activities, which get replaced by test preparation as March draws near; her mother said that when hours were added to make up for the high number of snow days this past year, all the hours were used for CMT practice, though they were not officially referred to as such. While Caridad has not had creativity or the love of learning driven from her, not all children are as fortunate in that way. Tested or not, Caridad is a solid student, who says that studying a lot and paying attention in class are the reasons why she is successful.

Read on to learn more about what students, parents, and teachers are doing nationwide to resist the NCLB coercion.

¹ Caridad is not the student’s real name. The student is a minor, and as such, she has a right to privacy and protection that adults do not.

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Happening(s) in September

The following is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. Rather, these are my snobbish selections of what sounds most interesting in the upcoming month. Also, to mark the ten years since September 11, 2001, there will be numerous events, re-broadcasts, etc. For this calendar, I am only including those that appear to promise not to pander to reactionaries, nor foster chauvinism.

August 31- September 4th

Quidam: Cirque du Soleil at the Civic Center.

September 1st

Art After Hours: Escape to India. The Wadsworth Atheneum’s monthly party will feature Indian cuisine, dancing, henna body painting, and a fashion show by Sadhna’s, a downtown clothing boutique. The event begins at 5pm and concludes after the screening of Monsoon Wedding.

The Art of Carlos Hernandez-Chavez: “I am My Mother.” The opening reception will be from 5-8pm at the Pump House Gallery, located at 60 Elm Street at the edge of Bushnell Park. This collection of work by “Hartford visual artist, muralist, photographer, musician, arts educator and activist Carlos Hernandez-Chavez” will be on display through September 29th. Continue reading “Happening(s) in September”

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Preparation without Panic

On Tuesday, Connecticut residents were preoccupied with the earthquake, which did little damage here. On Twitter, people sounded frantic about the possibility of aftershocks. This concern was rarely for/by those near the epicenter, where some property damage occurred. For perspective, a Richmond news site had no stories about the earthquake “above the fold” that evening, while every mainstream news outlet in Connecticut had it posted as the top story.

As Hurricane Irene became a formidable threat, again, the news jumped on it, making it a top story. Announcements, such as the one that Malloy declared a “state of emergency” are rarely accompanied with information about what this actually means. All people see is the word “emergency” and get their emotions stirred further. When it is declared, it means a disaster is believed to be imminent, or, it has already occurred; but, the intention is to secure funds and temporary powers to assist with the situation. Remember when a State of Emergency was declared last winter after all that snow fall? Nobody was out rioting in the streets, but removing all the snow cost a lot of money. The declaration was to help defray the cost.

Here is an explanation of the Declaration of Emergency, from the Governor’s website:

For those constantly tuned in for news updates, they are barraged with “breaking stories” — often of marginal importance — lots of red, flashing, scrolling data, dramatic music, and even graphics prepared for the occasion. Something that should be treated with attention and concern is converted into a spectacle of obsession. Continue reading “Preparation without Panic”

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Council Primary Candidates Forum

About half the seats were filled at the start of Wednesday’s forum; by the end, only a few dozen people remained, and many of those were candidates’ families, or, candidates running with the Republican and Working Families parties. Two of the ten Democrats running for City Council did not attend. It was a rare event that finished early in spite of many questions from the audience.

The forum provided Democrats with the opportunity to distinguish themselves from the other candidates; few bothered to do so. Instead, candidates were quick to agree with each other, rarely adding anything meaningful to previous comments; a few candidates gave rambling responses to most questions, stumping the audience as to the point being made. Continue reading “Council Primary Candidates Forum”

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Tonight’s City Council Candidate Forum: No Republicans Allowed

Tonight there will be a forum for those running for City Council, but there’s a catch: it is exclusive. Only those whose names will be on the September 13th primary ballot can participate. Here is the text of an email sent from Hartford 2000 to Republican candidates:

We recently sent you an invitation to participate in the Council Primary Candidates Forum to be held on August 24th. As we noted in the invitation, the forum is only for those candidates whose names will appear on the September 13th Primary Ballot.

Because there will not be a Republican primary and, consequently, you will not be on the ballot on Sept. 13th, we want to advise you that we will not be able to include you as a participant in the August 24th forum.

No reasons were provided for this decision, though it was noted that there will be a forum for candidates who will be in the general November election. Continue reading “Tonight’s City Council Candidate Forum: No Republicans Allowed”

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Can We Feed Ourselves?

In recent weeks Real Hartford polled* residents (not potential residents and not those who live elsewhere but work in the city) about their grocery shopping habits. While at it, we collected some demographic information. Here is what we found:

Continue reading “Can We Feed Ourselves?”

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More Parking Bans

The Department of Public Works has announced a parking ban from August 23rd-29th on certain streets due to milling and paving. They say “no parking will be allowed within the limits of construction area during milling and paving operations.” This schedule depends on weather conditions, so the ban may be extended if necessary. The streets with parking bans include:

This information comes from the City of Hartford. If you want to know more about the details of this, contact Keith Rapoza at (860) 757-9984.

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Prisoner Solidarity Speak-out to Mark End of Rolling Fast

Local activists began a rolling fast at the beginning of this month to show solidarity with prisoners in the California state system; 6,600 prisoners had been on a hunger strike to urge officials to change conditions in prisons, including the indefinite solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison.

The rolling fast will be ending tomorrow, August 23rd. From 6:30-8:30 pm there will be a speak-out at La Paloma Sabanera. On this National Day of Action and Solidarity, local activists will be sharing their own stories about fasting. They will provide education about prison conditions, not just in California, but here in Connecticut as well.

This event is free and sponsored by Connecticut in Solidarity with California Prisoners.

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