01/16/2013 06:01 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2013

180 Days Well Spent

A few years ago, a group of mostly low-income parents of color at the Center for Immigrant Families (CIF) (now the Parent Leadership Project-PLP) came together to discuss some of the ways that high stakes tests were affecting their children and their learning. After many discussions about the negative impact of these tests on their children's development and on their education, they began to imagine the kinds of classes and schools they'd like for their children -- without high stakes tests.

Parents talked together about what makes a good school, met with resource people from across the city, and thought deeply about how to have schools that reflect and well-serve all our communities and children; that embrace children as creative and critical thinkers; and that incorporate students' cultures and histories into the curriculum and school community.

CIF organizer Perla Placencia and parent activist Lucidania Mejia helped coordinate a series of meetings and gatherings with parents to envision what these schools might look like. Together, parents decided to create a video that would explore these issues and what is possible as a critical step in the process of effecting meaningful change.

Many of the parents participating in these discussions were or had been parents in the Bloomingdale Family Program, a magnificent Head Start Center in uptown Manhattan. CIF also worked with (and PLP continues to work with) educators from the Center for Inquiry and the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which has developed a robust system of assessment that uses multiple measures and doesn't rely on standardized high stakes tests.

For the next several months, CIF parents worked with the Center for Inquiry, the Consortium, and Bloomingdale to create "180 Days Well Spent." Produced by CIF* and the Center for Inquiry, the video included hours of filming and editing by the film's cinematographer and editor, Michael Tyner, an educator and film-maker who had attended an elementary school similar to the ones featured in the video.

The video is only 12 minutes long and is meant to encourage discussion that can help shape and inform meaningful action. It is intended as an opportunity to reflect upon some of the issues, to enrich discussion, and to help parents and communities strategize together about what is possible -- and how to get there.

(*As a member of the CIF/PLP community, I participated in the making of the video.)