Student Vanessa Vacanti of
Baldwinsville was so angry after
taking her state math test,
she flipped the exam over and wrote a
two-page letter to the State Education
Department on the back of it.
"Dear New York state," she began,
the tests "aren't helping students
in any way, and they are taking
time away from what we need to
learn for the future. We just get behind,"
When some of her teachers read
it, they encouraged her to come
to the "One Voice United" rally in
"They said I should stand up for
what I believe," Vacanti said.
She rode the bus with teachers
and parents from her district, along
with students from across the state,
and stood at the rally impressed by
the dedication shown by the more
than 15,000 people who turned out.
She learned from one speaker
that some testing companies are
looking into selling private information
"It's a really sneaky (and dishonest)
way to make money," she said.
Vacanti has started a blog about
state testing - saynotostatetests.wordpress.com - and made up brochures
to hand out to students so they can
pass them on to their parents to let
them know what is currently happening
in the dizzying world of public
East Ramapo senior Olivia Castor
was at the rally, too. She was unexpectedly
called up to the huge stage
to receive hearty applause from the
densely packed crowd for leading
a student walkout at her school.
Teachers, she promised the people
before her, "WE HAVE YOUR VOICE!"
The Harvard-bound Castor lives in
a district where school aid does not
go far enough to accommodate the
needs of all students. Many Latino
and Caribbean immigrants and firstgeneration
high school students live
in the district. Yes, first generation
Voters in May rejected a $210
million budget that cut more than 60
staff members, art and music programs,
after-school clubs and many
Courses are packed because of
prior teacher layoffs, Castor said.
Students "are bored, and they're not
getting their energy out."
She gave them a way to vent by
organizing a walkout. More than 500
students chanted "no more cuts."
Voters approved a more painful
$209.5 million budget — $452,000
less than the previous budget proposal
— during the June 18 re-vote.
Cohoes High School Marching
Band honor guard Nick Brazzell, a
sixth-grader from the Spindle City, in
Albany County, said he came to the rally
"so we can have budgets passed."
Dressed in a sharp blue-and-gold
band uniform, Brazzell said he always
wanted to be in the marching
band and enjoys earning extra credits
toward his future college career.
Music and band teaching positions
have been cut in the Cohoes district.
Nikhil Goyal (pictured above), author of One
Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's
Assessment of School, said he loved
the energy of the June 8 rally.
Goyal, a January graduate of
Syosett High School, told the crowd
that as "a member of the No Child
Left Behind and Race to the Top
generation," he and his cohorts
have been tested to an extent that
is unprecedented. "My entire school
career has been dominated by endless
testing and a culture of 'drill,
kill, bubble fill.'"
Goyal will lead a student movement
next school year against
the overemphasis of high-stakes
"It is time for the stakeholders
to rise up and revolt," he said.
Students are "taking back our
schools. We're taking back public
education ... from the hands of corporations,
billionaires, Wall Street and testing companies.