context clues

City officials hit local libraries to help parents understand scores

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Samita Rahaman, an M.S. 101 eighth grader, told a city official why she hadn’t been able to access her test scores.

Carolina Martinez was shocked when she logged on to the city’s student data system on Monday to see her daughter’s fifth-grade state test scores.

Sitting at a computer station at the Parkchester Library in the Bronx, with a Department of Education staff member at her side, Martinez said she saw that her daughter, Stephanie Bravo, had gotten 1’s in math and reading — the lowest scores possible.

The bad news came as a surprise because Stephanie had gotten much higher scores, 3’s and 4’s, as a fourth-grader at P.S. 106 in 2012, Martinez said, and her teacher last year said Stephanie was doing well.

Leaving the library, Martinez said she didn’t understand why Stephanie’s scores had fallen so far. She said she hadn’t heard that the state had adopted new standards, known as the Common Core, to propel students toward college readiness.

That wasn’t the outcome that department officials hoped for when they fanned out to libraries across the five boroughs this week for “Log On and Learn” events aimed at helping parents access and interpret their children’s scores. 

The department has held similar events for the past two years to help parents overcome technical difficulties to access ARIS ParentLink, the data system for parents where individual students’ scores were uploaded over the weekend. This year, the department added more staff at the events because of the added goal of explaining the new, often lower scores and the Common Core context behind them, which they did with the assistance of reams of pamphlets in multiple languages.

Before the test scores came out last month, city officials warned that they were likely to be far lower than in the past because of the new standards. This week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott took to the airwaves to reassure New Yorkers about what they would see when they logged into ARIS.

“These scores represent a new higher tougher standard, and that’s important,” Walcott said on the Brian Lehrer Show on Monday. He added, “We understand it will be a shock.”

It was a theme reiterated to parents at the Parkchester Library, who mostly spoke limited English and communicated with department staff with the help of their children or Nasima Akhter, a Bengali interpreter hired by the department.

“They told her not to worry because the standards are new,” Akhter said about another mother who learned that her son’s scores were lower this year than last year. “It’s not only her son who got a 2, because the tests are harder now.”

Carolina Martinez says she was surprised to see her daughter's scores plummet this year.
Carolina Martinez says she was surprised to see her daughter’s scores plummet this year.

Akhter said the Common Core came up in some but not all of the conversations between parents and department staff. Some parents, she said, only asked how to log onto the system or retrieve lost passwords and didn’t learn about the new standards.

But even students who didn’t know the name “Common Core” said they had noticed a change in the tests.

Rakih Ishraq, who is entering fifth grade at P.S. 106, said the tests were harder this year, but that his scores improved. “Maybe because the teachers went harder on the lessons so I would really learn,” he said. Ishraq translated for his mother, who immigrated from Bangladesh in 2000.

Samita Rahaman, a rising eighth grader at M.S. 101, said she had heard about the Common Core from her teachers.

“They said they made new standards, the Common Core,” she said. “To me the [reading test] seemed sort of messy. Half of the school didn’t finish [the test], and there was crying and tantrums.” Rahaman said that when time was called her essay was only half done.

Rahaman’s mother, Nilima, had deactivated the e-mail address linked to her ARIS account, so Rahaman hadn’t been able to see her scores. For a few minutes it looked like department officials wouldn’t be able to help, because only Rahaman’s father’s name was in the system, and he was at work and wouldn’t get home until midnight. Rahaman said she often translates for her mother and that people aren’t always understanding of the constraints of her father’s work schedule.

In this case, though, the family eventually got online and found good news — two fours, despite the unfinished essay. Rahaman said she was satisfied with the department officials who staffed the event, despite the snafus.

“I think our voices showed some aggression,” she said. “But they were very polite and sophisticated.”

Parents who aren’t able to log in online and can’t make one of this week’s events can ask at their schools when school opens, officials said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.