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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.

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede