Friday, August 5, 2011

Civil rights lawyers joining anti-testing forces in CMS

Add the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group, to the list of organizations pushing back against the expansion of high-stakes testing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The Washington, D.C.-based project, which bills itself as a civil rights "action tank," has been in Charlotte this week interviewing parents at the local NAACP office. Jasmine Harris, a staff attorney with the project, said the group believes high-stakes tests like North Carolina's end-of-grade and end-of-course exams are narrowing the curriculum, squeezing out creativity and frustrating minority students.

Harris said the new 50-plus local tests CMS rolled out this spring to help evaluate teacher performance won't help matters. She said parents from all backgrounds and colors told the project about their frustrations with the new testing regime, which sparked protests from teachers and parents who called the new exams too ill-prepared, costly, time-consuming and unnecessary. Harris said the Advancement Project plans to produce a report by year's end summarizing its findings, and hopes to help push for alternative ways of judging student and teacher performance. She mentioned portfolio-style assessments as one. Asked if the Advancement Project might file some sort of lawsuit against CMS, she suggested that was unlikely, or at least a last resort. She voiced hopes that Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who presides over the long-running Leandro school-quality lawsuit, will hold a hearing on high-stakes testing and allow the group to present its findings.

The group's presence comes as the NAACP plans what it calls a "March Against Educational Genocide" on Saturday Aug. 13 at Marshall Park. The NAACP says it is calling the march to bring attention to the "grave inequities" in CMS concerning effective teachers, fair discipline, equitable resources and challenging curriculum. N.C. NAACP President William Barber will speak. CMS has won praise nationally in recent years for narrowing the achievement gap, but judging from the title of the march, the civil rights group isn't impressed.

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