Thursday, December 13, 2012

Joyce and Megan's story with a (somewhat) happy ending for this holiday season

Megan Marrera credit: NY Post

Here is the story of a Queens parent, Joyce Caba, who refused to allow her honor-roll daughter, Megan, to be denied her chance to graduate from middle school after the DOE claimed she had flunked her 8th grade English Language Arts exam.  

We first found out about Megan’s plight from a comment Joyce left on our NYC Public School Parents blog after the state ELA exams were held last spring, an exam which many parents, students, and teachers found to be flawed and confusing --and which included the now-infamous Pineapple question, on the very same 8thgrade exam which Megan supposedly failed.

Everything that follows is just as Joyce wrote it, with a few typos corrected and edited for length, along with the NY Post articles which resulted from her emails to me.  Megan's story, as well as the thousands of other students who were unjustly prevented from graduating with their class, underscores how the fate of no child should ever be decided on a single exam--and the city’s policy to hold back students  on the basis of unreliable test scores is not unfair but contrary to research.  In a holiday spirit, I thought I would recount Megan's story, as her mom told it to me, because there is a partially happy ending, as you shall see. 

On the blog: Joyce Bellerose NY said...
Hi I am a parent of a 13 year old. My daughter was unable to attend her 8th Grade graduation with her class because she did not do well on her NYS ELA test. Meanwhile she made honor roll, did not fail any of her classes throughout the school year. If you ask me that is mental torture! How can the NYS school system and the politicians behind it do this to a human being especially to a kid. Talk about abuse ….! I tell you I went on sleepless nights and sick to my stomach just seeing how upset my daughter was and still is, all her classmates went to graduation and she could not participate because of one NYS Test that even our educators question! So my question to whom ever wrote and implemented this rule …. What is the purpose of sending them to school all year long …. for one test to determine the end results  If there is someone out there that is doing something about it please let me know I would like to join in or if not let's have our voices heard!

After the state test scores were released in July, Joyce found out that the DOE had made a mistake and Megan had actually passed the exam.  She then wrote on the blog, once more:

I just want to give an update for those of you who wrote me back with concerns and advising me who to contact regarding my daughter's NYS ELA test score. It so happens that my daughter after all passed her NYS ELA test the NYC DOE made a mistake. How can they make such a huge mistake like this? It was bought to my attention that this has happened to a lot of children this year. Who is scoring these tests? How can this happen? If we as parents do not voice our concerns then how can this HUGE error be corrected in the future?  I am so disappointed in the NYS School system…Where can I go to voice my concerns? Thank you July 23, 2012 10:33 AM 

 I advised Joyce to email me offline, and she did:

From: Joyce Caba
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2012 10:21 PM

Hi Leonie: Thank you for hearing my story regarding my daughter not being able to graduate with her class because NYC DOE cheated her …. I want to be heard I want this to go to Albany or Washington! I want to make a change for the future of the other children. We cannot go back in time, but NYC DOE marked my daughter's life and cheated her of what would of been a beautiful memory that she would of cherished for the rest of her life!

I asked her if I could forward her email to a reporter, Yoav Gonen of the NY Post, and she agreed.

From: Joyce Caba
Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 10:31 AM

Leonie, Yoav [Gonen] from the NY Post contacted me. I sent him all of my back up letters from the school and even copies of my daughter's awards throughout the school year. He is waiting for the green light from his editors to see if he can post the story tomorrow.

From: Joyce Caba
Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 11:02 AM

 Good morning, just wanted to keep you posted and let you know that finally my daughter and I went to pick up her diploma today. It was heartbreaking how we went to the main office and the lady just handed her the diploma as if you would go and pick up any simple document. My daughter was not a thrilled as she should have been walking across that stage at St. John University on Friday, June 22 with the rest of the Bell Academy Graduation Class.

We met with the NY Post reporter Loraine at Bell Academy Middle School this morning and she took down all our comments along with some pictures.…Thank you for listening to this heartbreaking ordeal that we had to encounter when it should have been a happy milestone in my daughter’s life experience.

 On July 26, the NY Post article was published which not only focused on Megan’s plight, but also pointed out that DOE officials had mistakenly prevented thousands of NYC students from attending their graduations, because they had wrongly assumed they had failed their exams:

As many as 7,000 city elementary- and middle-school students were wrongly barred from attending their graduation ceremonies this year because education officials mistakenly thought they had failed state exams.

Test scores announced last week revealed that the Department of Education had overestimated how many students had failed the exams and needed to attend summer school — but the reversal came only after students had already missed their class celebrations.

“I was looking forward to my graduation — I had a red, strapless dress picked out and sandals. I couldn’t wait to wear my cap and gown and graduate with all my friends,” said Bell Academy MS eighth-grader, Megan Marrera — who was barred from even sitting in the audience at her graduation last month. “When they told me I wasn’t graduating, I was very sad. I felt like such a failure,” she added. “The day of the graduation, I was crying in bed.”

The 13-year-old was stunned to learn last week that she actually passed the English exam she had been told she failed — and should have been allowed to graduate with her Bayside classmates.
The news left her mother, Joyce, steamed over the injustice — particularly because her daughter worked extra hard to keep her grades up while dealing with a medical condition.
“I feel that Megan was robbed of seeing a milestone in her life, and that’s unforgivable,” she said. “There’s no way to go back to that day now.”….

 One week later, Joyce emailed me with the good news.  As reported in a follow-up article in the NY Post, the city planned to make it up to the 1200 8th graders who had been prevented from graduating with their class, by holding separate ceremonies around the city. This happened because Speaker Quinn had complained to the DOE after reading the NY Post article about Megan’s plight.   Here's an excerpt from the article:

It’s better gradu-late than never
They can don their caps and gowns after all.

The city is planning to make amends to more than 1,200 eighth-graders wrongly barred from graduating with their friends and classmates in June by holding make-up ceremonies in each borough.
The move, a joint effort by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Department of Education, came after The Post reported that 7,000 students in third through eighth grades had been wrongly assigned to summer school based on their preliminary test results.

When the final scores came out in mid-July, they showed that the students had actually passed the required math and reading tests — but only after many of them had been blocked from graduation or stepping-up ceremonies.

Their wrongful placement into summer school also forced families to postpone or cancel summer trips. 

Quinn, who has led several initiatives targeting middle-schoolers in recent years, said she was moved to find a solution to the injustice after reading about it in The Post.

“This sends the message that every child who meets their requirements deserves an opportunity to be recognized,” she said. We wish these graduates the very best in high school and beyond.”
Families gave kudos to the city for trying to right a wrong but said it was impossible to undo the harm.

From: Joyce Caba
Sent: Wednesday, August 01, 2012 11:32 AM

….By the way I also received a call from the Chancellor's office yesterday. They are apologizing for what my daughter had to encounter and they will try to send someone to her graduation ceremony to speak and commend Megan for speaking out and letting her voice be heard. They are also going to regroup and will go back to their rules and regulations to make some changes on behalf of Megan …. They apologized several times during our phone conversation… there is nothing like going to the media and having your voice heard!

Both Megan and I want to personally thank you for all your help and making your suggestions. We need to make changes because it is so obvious there are many cracks in the NYC school system affecting our children ….

 From: Joyce Caba
Sent: Sunday, August 05, 2012 2:40 PM

 I thank you, Class Size Matters and the NY Post for helping us voice our opinion and our concerns! Freedom of Speech! I hope this will open the doors to a lot of other people going through this negative experience; and as per today's NY Post article, I see the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is getting involved. We got their attention. Kudos to all!

An excerpt from the article about Megan’s belated graduation ceremony: 

This graduation was very light on the pomp.More than a dozen Queens eighth-graders mistakenly banned from attending their graduation in June got to walk across the stage yesterday — which many called bittersweet.

“I feel happy because I finally got to graduate. But it is not the same because there are some people I’m not going to see next [school] year, and I wanted to be with them,” said Megan Marrera, a 13-year-old who attended Bell Academy MS in Bayside.

No comments: