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PARCC protests hit APS

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Hundreds of students from around New Mexico walked out of class Monday morning to protest the state’s new standardized test, while thousands more began taking the controversial exam.

In Albuquerque, between 900 and 1,000 students held protests at seven Albuquerque Public Schools high schools and at one local charter school, according to APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta. There are about 66,000 students across the district who are scheduled to take the test.

About 100 students protested briefly in Rio Rancho, while students also held protests in Las Cruces, Moriarty and Santa Fe.

The size of the protests varied widely in Albuquerque. Some schools such as Albuquerque and Rio Grande high schools had hundreds of student protesters, while protests at La Cueva and Sandia were much smaller.

State Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said Monday that she was disappointed some students chose to walk out on the test, but she said there were thousands more who began the PARCC exam Monday.

“I think we need to applaud the kids who did take on this challenge,” she told the Journal.

Both Skandera and APS interim Superintendent Brad Winter said the first day of testing was “positive” and that computer glitches were minimal.

Protesting students carried posters with messages such as “I am more than a test score” and chanted slogans like “Say no to PARCC” — referring to New Mexico’s new standardized test, the Partnership for Assessment of  Readiness for College and Career exam.

The test is a graduation requirement for 11th-graders, although they also can meet the requirement by passing other tests.

‘Too much overtesting’

About 400 students from Rio Grande High School and South Valley Academy left their schools and marched to join student protesters at Atrisco Heritage Academy. They walked along the shoulder of Coors and Dennis Chavez boulevards with police accompanying them in order to help keep them safe.

APS bused the students back to their schools after they reached Atrisco Heritage.

Myrna Campos, a South Valley Academy senior who helped organize the protests at her school, said she was inspired by student protests in Santa Fe last week.

“It’s too much overtesting,” Campos said as she walked with classmates down Coors.

But it was relatively quiet in Santa Fe, where students staged the first demonstrations against the PARCC exam last week.

Latifah Phillips, the school district’s chief of staff, said about five students at Santa Fe High School walked out on the test but later returned to class.

“Overall, the first day of testing went pretty smoothly,” she said.

Phillips said there had been an uptick in parents filing paperwork to have their children opt out of taking the test. Early last week, just five parents had filled out forms to opt out. That was up to 60 on Monday.

But Phillips noted that’s just a small percentage of the 8,000 students in Santa Fe Public Schools eligible to take the test.

In Albuquerque, Winter said APS respects students’ right to protest, but it creates safety concerns when they leave campus.

“We want students to be in class for their education, but when students do leave campus, it is a concern because we can’t protect them,” he said.

Armenta urged parents to talk to their children about their safety if they do leave campus.

New Mexico adopted the PARCC exam — which is more rigorous than its predecessor, the Standards Based Assessment — because it aligns with the Common Core State Standards, which New Mexico put in place last year. Students in grades 3-11 take the exam.

The federal government requires states to give a statewide standardized test. New Mexico is among a group of states that have chosen to use the PARCC exam, a computerized test.

The PARCC exam will be used as a graduation requirement for juniors who take the test, although they can meet the requirement by passing other tests. It also will be used in teacher evaluations and A-F school grades in the same way the SBA was used.

Critics say the PARCC exam is contributing to overtesting in schools and takes away from important classroom instructional time.

Skandera said the PARCC is simply replacing the SBA and requires either the same or less testing time than the SBA. She said she plans to meet with students who expressed concerns to her over the test in letters after PARCC’s first testing period and that she appreciates that some students voiced concerns about the test without leaving class.

Connor Guiney, a junior at Highland who helped organize the protest at his school, said, “PARCC isn’t fair to students, teachers and schools.”

Guiney said he disagrees with the test’s role in teacher and school ratings, and that it takes up too much class time.

Anna Bentham-Grey, who also helped organize the walkout, said planning began last week and was done largely on social media.

Test makeup?

Student protesters were split over whether they would take the test.

Some said they were skipping it altogether. Others said they hoped to take it and make up the portion of the exam they missed Monday.

APS officials had warned students if they walked out on the exam, they would not be allowed to make up the portion they missed.

Bentham-Grey and Guiney said they hoped students still would be allowed to take the PARCC.

“We still want students to take the test. We still want them to make good scores on it,” Bentham-Grey said.

Last Wednesday, Winter issued a letter that was posted on the district’s website warning students that if they skipped class, they would receive an unexcused absence.

Some students said they have been threatened with stiffer penalties, including in- and out-of-school suspensions, being suspended from extracurricular activities and not being able to walk during their graduation ceremonies.

Armenta said the district will leave it up to principals to decide penalties for students who walked out.

At Albuquerque High, student organizer Maya Quinones, a senior, said the point of the protest was to draw attention to students’ dissatisfaction with the test.

“The purpose is to let people know the test is hurting us,” she said.

Quinones said organizers hoped to keep the demonstration civil and restrained. She said students came up with a code of conduct, which included a ban on any profanity in chants or on posters.

SouthWest Organizing Project, a community organization, paid for the Albuquerque High students’ posters, said Janelle Astorga, a senior who also is an intern for the group. She said the protest, however, was strictly a student effort.

Kim Vesely, spokeswoman for Rio Rancho Public Schools, said about 50 students walked out at Rio Rancho High and 50 at V. Sue Cleveland High.

Cleveland Principal Scott Affentranger said the protest at his school started about 7:30 a.m. but was short-lived.

Not every student was on board with the protests.

“You’re going to have to take so many tests in life, like, this is nothing compared to what you’re going to have to take. It’s kind of easier to just man-up and take it,” Rio Rancho High senior Danielle Griego told the Rio Rancho Observer.

About 150 Moriarty High School students walked out of class after the first bell. Teachers and Moriarty-Edgewood School District officials were waiting for them when the students filed out onto the Pinto Patio at the school.

“The students deserve to be heard,” Moriarty Principal Stephanie West  said.

There were no signs to speak of and no chanting of slogans. The protest was more of an opportunity for those organizing it to ask their classmates to fill out postcards to be sent to Skandera, Gov. Susana Martinez and state lawmakers.

Journal staff writers Elaine Briseno, T.S. Last and Rory McClannahan contributed to this report.


Read more about the tests: Students prepare to take the PARCC plunge

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