About 250 students walked out of classes Monday at Santa Fe High and Capital High schools in protest of the upcoming PARCC exams, the state’s newly imposed standardized tests that will be used to assess student achievement and evaluate schools and teachers.
Police were called to Capital after some students pulled down a parking lot gate with a truck, but otherwise the walkouts remained largely civil. About 30 students made their way to the Capitol building in downtown Santa Fe to make their concerns known directly to lawmakers.
The protests reflect the anxiety both on the parts of students and teachers over the exams — the latest evolution of high-stakes testing to hit public schools. Teachers unions and some school boards across the state have asked the New Mexico Public Education Department to delay the implementation of the exams — which test students’ aptitude in reading and math using Common Core standards.
The protests, which students promoted using social media, began about 10:30 a.m. About 150 students walked out at Santa Fe High and about 100 at Capital.
Superintendent Joel Boyd stopped by Santa Fe High around 11 a.m. and urged students to write letters of concern regarding the PARCC testing to Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera and told them he would personally deliver them to her.
Boyd said Monday afternoon that while the district supports students expressing their points of view, principals at both schools will “mete out consequences” for those who violated school code policies or damaged the fence.
One Capital student, who did not want her name in the newspaper, said of her peers who damaged the fence, “They did not act responsible. This makes our school look really bad.”
Charlotte Gonzales, a 10th-grader who stayed on campus, said, “This was about saying ‘no’ to PARCC tests. We weren’t supposed to leave the campus.”
There were no reports of property damage at Santa Fe High School, according to Lt. Andrea Dobyns of the Santa Fe Police Department and Latifah Phillips, chief of staff for Santa Fe Public Schools.
The protest was announced on social media sites, including Facebook, over the weekend. It was intended to start a weeklong walkout of classes to demonstrate against the PARCC exams, which will start in March for students in grades 3 through 11.
The all-computerized PARCC exam — short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — is designed to test students’ knowledge of the newly adopted Common Core Standards, which encourage critical thinking and essay writing.
The tests are expected to take up to nine hours of time over several days. Students and teachers have been taking pilot PARCC exams to prepare for the real thing.
Some students who stayed on the Capital campus said they think the PARCC tests are too hard and that the pilot PARCC testing periods are taking time away from classroom instruction.
“It’s unfair; we aren’t going to pass,” said 11th-grader Ana Iris, who took part in a practice test last week. Another student said, “We test too much.”
Many Capital High students said the initial protest plan was to form as a group right in front of the school around 10:30 a.m. — the start of the third period. But more than half of the students involved immediately began walking off the campus.
When security guards closed the main gate to the Capital campus to vehicles, students began pulling down fencing surrounding the student parking lot so they could drive off. School administrators then called the Santa Fe Police Department. A patrol car arrived shortly after all the students left.
School administrators, who were tipped off to the protest, attempted to convince the departing students to return to class. Some did. The school officials urged students to organize a more formal protest at the state Capitol so lawmakers could hear their concerns.
Some of the students said they asked their parents or teachers for permission to protest in advance. Many planned to return to their campuses later that day.
At the Roundhouse, where some students traveled by city bus from their south-side campuses, students gathered in the House gallery, but it was unclear whether they were able to speak to any lawmakers, many of whom were locked away in committee hearings. Boyd showed up as well to speak to the protesters and arrange transportation for them back to their schools.
As they waited for rides back, three of the protesting students engaged in a conversation with Boyd.
Jose Medina, a 15-year-old freshman at Capital High School, said he objects to the amount of time that testing takes up in the classroom and wasn’t just following the crowd when he left school to demonstrate at the Roundhouse.
“There’s too much testing,” agreed Liliana Reza Carrillo, a junior at Capital. “There’s eight weeks of testing, one week of review and then finals.”
“We asked permission before we came here, of one of our teachers and the secretary,” Carrillo said. “There’s a lot of teachers that even came here and protested against this testing themselves.”
The students wouldn’t identify the teacher that they said let them leave school to protest testing.
“She didn’t encourage us, but she said, ‘Go and do whatever you think is best,’ ” Carrillo said. “We know if we stay at school, nobody’s going to hear us. If we come here, more people might hear what we have to say.”
Boyd said the purpose of his conversation with the students protesting at the Roundhouse was to make sure they were safe “and to make sure that our young people feel that their voices are heard.”
“They’re looking to express themselves on a matter of public policy that has a direct impact on them,” Boyd said. ” I think every teacher would support that. What teachers are not condoning is any type of disruption to school or leaving school grounds without permission. I don’t think any teacher is supporting a violation of school rules.”
Boyd was less direct about his stance on testing than the students were.
“There are pros and cons to each assessment,” Boyd said, “And every type of assessment warrants a conversation.”
One of the students involved in the protest said he would confer with other students to find out if they want to continue the protests through the week.
“If so, hopefully they will be more peaceful; no tearing down of fences,” he said.
Staff reporter Patrick Malone contributed to this report. Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.