New Orleans Teens Speak Out Against Testing

New Orleans, March 23-Members of a teen education advocacy group are planning to protest a school testing policy on Saturday, March 24, because they believe it hinders rather than helps students and leads to more school dropouts. The march, organized by the Fyre Youth Squad, is billed as “Walk Before You L.E.A.P.,” and students plan to march through the city, hold a news conference, then rally at City Hall, organizers said.

As part of building support for the march, about 30 students, including Fyre Youth members gathered at a forum in the city’s council chambers Wednesday to deliver a message to Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and the Education Committee.

Jasmine Moore, a high school senior, told officials that there’s more than one way to assess a student’s progress.

“You have to do your term paper to graduate. You have to have certain community service hours,” said Moore, a student at McDonogh 35. “I’m sure there’s some people in this world that didn’t pass the L.E.A.P. test the first time [and who] are successful now.”

L.E.A.P., or the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, tests skill levels in English and math (in the 10th grade), and social studies and science (in 11th grade).

The Fyre Youth Squad has caused a storm of its own since Hurricane Katrina hit the city and left an already severely troubled school system in total shambles.

In short order the group has gained a reputation for its educational activism, demanding more teachers and more textbooks and a general overhaul of public education. That reputation has drawn some national media attention, and the support of Bill Cosby, who visited the students last year.

Fyre Youth members said Wednesday that using the L.E.A.P. assessment tests as a pass or fail exam instead of for diagnostic purposes keeps students from advancing to the next grade, and discourages some so much that they eventually drop out of school.

Broderick Webb, an adult organizer with the group, said L.E.A.P. is rooted in No Child Left Behind.

For Webb and other members of the Downtown Neighborhoods Improvement Association Education Committee of New Orleans, getting young people involved in social activism was necessary after Hurricane Katrina left few functional schools.

Through youth forums, Broderick said, the association was able to get teenagers engaged in a discussion about public education. The action took off from there.

“From these two youth forums, a small group of students showed interest in developing an on-going group,” said Webb, who distributed fliers about the march Wednesday night. “That group became the Fyre Youth Squad.”

“We found that schools are in horrific conditions….More security guards than teachers…no textbooks…no library. Students were finding ice in the middle of their cold sandwiches because [schools] weren’t quick to serve hot lunches,” Webb said.

After organizing a press conference Oct. 9 on the front steps of John McDonogh High with a list of demands, they met Superintendent Robin Jarvis and four of the five principals of the recovery district high schools. They have also testified before legislative committees and delivered statements at the board of elementary and secondary education, Louisiana’s top authority on education.

On Wednesday, officials listened to the students mostly without comment.

Fyre Youth Squad member Debbie Casey, a junior at Douglass High School, said Saturday’s march was critical.

“The reason we want to have this march is for a moratorium” on the testing so that it “won’t prevent us from graduating or it won’t prevent the fourth graders and eighth graders from advancing to the next grade.”

Deri’Andra Tucker, a senior at McDonogh 35, is excited to see young people advocating for themselves.

“I think it’s great to see students are stepping up now and really taking control,” she said at the forum.

For information on Fyre Youth Squad: Fyreyouthsquad@gmail.com or Webb at (504) 615-5497.