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Fariña signals she's open to untying test scores and promotion decisions

Speaking to parents in Brooklyn Wednesday night, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña signaled another possible policy change—this time to Bloomberg-era promotion policies.

“This is all stuff we’re thinking about, so I don’t want to see tomorrow that this is absolute: Is there a way to rethink how we look at promotion?” she asked the parents, who were a mix of parent association leaders and parent coordinators from District 15, where she was once a principal and superintendent. “Does promotion have to be tied to a test?”

Changing the policy of allowing students to continue to the next grade level regardless of whether they passed state exams was a top priority of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s when he gained control of the school system in 2002. The use of test scores in student promotion decisions, teacher evaluations, and school grades prompted parents’ questions about test anxiety for Fariña.

Untying test scores from promotion decisions doesn’t necessarily mean reinstituting social promotion, which refers to promoting students based on their age. But Fariña’s response indicates one way she could make good on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to reduce the city’s emphasis on standardized test scores.

The social promotion ban took effect for third grade in 2004 and was in place for grades three through eight by 2009. Some years, few students were affected by having to score at least a level 2—half of one percent of fifth graders in 2008, for example. (In 2012, the city backed down slightly, allowing students who had been held back multiple times to be promoted if they had shown certain gains.)

As social promotion was curtailed under Bloomberg, the city also put money into Saturday programs and intervention specialists at schools, Fariña noted on Wednesday. Anna Commitante, who became an executive director under new deputy chancellor Phil Weinberg last week, will be working to revive those intervention efforts and to improve Common Core-related professional development, she said.

And while she criticized how the tests have been used, the chancellor offered her full endorsement to the tougher exams themselves, just one day after the uproar over the new exams led state lawmakers to call for a delay in using them to evaluate teachers.

“Testing itself is not the issue. I just want to say clearly that I do think the Common Core is the right thing,” Fariña said. How the new standards are aligned with existing curriculums, though, is where “we’re trying to make sense of nonsense.”

Fariña made it clear that she did sympathize with many of the parents’ concerns about testing and student stress. She repeated the lines she used when testifying in Albany: when students urinate in class or throw up, it’s all gone too far.

But she cautioned the parents in District 15, many of whom have been at the forefront of the anti-testing push, that she wouldn’t encourage opting out of the state exams.

“Again, every parent needs to make their own decision. I don’t think necessarily opting out of the test is the greatest way to get the best outcome,” Fariña told them.

At the meeting, Fariña also praised the district’s parent associations, which often raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, for also “caring about your neighbors’ children.” She focused on how parents and principals in District 15 could use their expertise to help more needy Brooklyn schools through grant-writing and joint events, and encouraged school leaders to swap staff with schools in nearby Sunset Park.

A number of parents said they were happy to hear more specifics from Fariña about how she envisioned parents taking the lead in her old district. The middle ground on testing didn’t sit well with everyone, though.

“She isn’t presenting an alternative,” said Heather Abdel, vice president of P.S. 230’s parent association. “She’s not for testing, and she’s not for opting out.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.