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Students criticize high-stakes testing, “racist” education system

Denver Student Union member Alex Kacsh speaks from the steps of the capitol, flanked by representatives of Project Voyce and other students.
Denver Student Union member Alex Kacsh speaks from the steps of the capitol, flanked by representatives of Project Voyce and other students.
Kate Schimel

A group of parents, teachers and observers gathered on the steps of the Capitol Monday evening to hear students protest high stakes testing, as part of a “State of the Student” event organized by the Denver Student Union.

“Because of the tests, we have changed the structure of classrooms and what students are allowed to do,” said Michaela Ladenburger, one of the featured student speakers and a member of the Denver Student Union, which advocates for student voices in education.

Students from schools including Denver’s Manual High School and Jeffco Open School gave impromptu or planned speeches, which ranged from takedowns of personal accounts of testing struggles to accusations of corporate profiteering.

“I’m a horrible tester,” said Manual senior Anthony Scott. “I guessed all the questions [on the ACT reading section] because I didn’t have time to read.”

Scott told Chalkbeat he was worried about the direction the education system was taking for his young nephew.

“I’ve been through the school system,” Scott said. “I haven’t learned anything I could use in my life.”

Another student said he had “been victimized by the public education system” and that the stress of testing made him fake sick starting in elementary school.

Teaching life skills was a motif in the speeches, as was the role of race and privilege in public education.

“My black and brown peers are in a system that is racist and we call it schooling” said Alex Kacsh, who attends Jeffco Open School and gave the official “State of the Student” speech.

Kacsh also criticized the role politics played in reforming education, highlighting political battles around the Front Range, from Jeffco where “the superintendent was kicked out” to Dougco “where [voters] are seeing their funds go to the charter school down the road.”

Kacsh and others said testing restricted teachers and limited the ways students could demonstrate knowledge.

He urged legislators to listen to students when they think about changing the system.

“What I see with most legislators is when you say you want to do the best for us, we’re not invited to the table,” Kacsh said.

“We’re leading the country in the wrong way,” he said, receiving applause from the small group of listeners. “Standardized testing is simply dumbing down our kids.”

Following the speeches, a group of students delivered a petition to end statewide standardized testing to the governor’s office and the Colorado Department of Education.

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