Talon News - Good Local News



January 11, 2019

Michelle Lujan Grisham making a campaign stop in Farmington in September 2018 promises to end PARCC.- PHOTO BY TALON STAFF

Governor Ends Standardized Testing in NM

by Jacque Ritchie

Former three term house representative Michelle Lujan Grisham was sworn in on Tuesday January 1, as the 32nd governor of New Mexico. Lujan Grisham hit the ground running making good on her campaign promise by suspending PARCC standardized testing in New Mexico schools. According to a recent press release from the office of the governor Lujan Grisham said, "This is the first of many steps we will take to transform education in our state...High stakes tests like PARCC do a disservice and we are about empowering our school system." Lujan Grisham said she is working on finding a, "less intrusive method of assessing school performance."

Perhaps it's worth a try, we have no place to go but up. Robert Nott (The New Mexican 1/17/18) reports, New Mexico public schools scored 66.2 for a 'D' and ranks 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts took the top spot scoring a 'B+'. According to numerous assessment surveys New Mexico frequently places 50th or close to it, often racing Mississippi to the bottom in public education. Last year we beat Nevada to the bottom. Hey, at least we're consistent.

Schooldigger.com reports out of the 103 school districts in the state, Aztec school district ranks 70th, bring out the sad trombone (WomWom) Bloomfield ranks 86th and Farmington ranks 33rd. To their credit Los Alamos takes the number one spot, in the lowest ranking state.

Quality Counts reports that only 19.7 percent of New Mexico kids grades 3-11 are proficient in math and 28.6 percent are proficient in language arts based on PARCC exams. Given that 29 percent of New Mexican children grow up in poverty leads some experts to argue that poverty hinders test taking performance.

The Parntership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are standardized tests developed by educators and administrators to measure students and strengths and weaknesses and how well student's can critcally apply knowledge of concepts rather then memorized facts. In New Mexico two sets of exams are administered starting at the end of March into April ending May 8. Typically the computer based testing takes between 12 hours (for third graders) to almost 15 hours (for high schoolers) to complete.

Educators contend problems with PARCC include the preparation time takes most of the spring semester and test materials must be integrated into the regular daily curriculum. Adding to the stress for educators is the accountability aspect. PARCC test results are used to assess teacher performance.

In a statement released to TALON, Vista Nueva Principal Rocky Torres wrote, "No standardized testing is perfect and PARCC was no exception...We have been working hard to prepare our students for the PARCC tests but it is not our only goal as we have a variety of measures to determine student success...While PARCC results are tied to evaluations and school grade we always look at those as indicators that inform us , but do not define us."

Koogler Middle School Principal Jessica Sledzinski appreciates both the usefullness and challenges of standardized testing, "When we first started the students were unfamiliar with the technology so there was a learning curve there... we have had some time to adjust I'm confident that will be more apparent in future test results." Sledzinski explained that PARCC/Common Core testing can be a challenge for teachers as well. Teachers that have poor exam scores can be subjected to certain corrective measures that, "may seem punitive" like having a "growth plan" implemented, while teachers whose students test well, may receive a monetary bonus. Sledzinski said that doing away with the testing may mean less stress for teachers in the short-run, but she is in a "wait and see" mode about an alternative. Sledzinski said, "Right now there's a lot to be seen about what they (Lujan Grisham adminstration) come up with, it's going to be a big transition."

Christopher Tienken Associate Professor of Education and Leadership Management at Seton Hall University, New Jersey has studied and written extensively on the subject of PARCC. According to Teinken's findings, "Students test score tell us more about the community they live in than what they know...research shows standardized testing scores do not reflect the quality of instruction."

Cost is another consideration, according to Jon Swedien (ALB Journal 3/1/2015) there are several different costs associated with PARCC. Reportedly in 2015 the state paid Pearson Education Inc. (London, England) 6.2 million to "administer" the test, it is unclear if that expense has changed. In 2014 the state spent 5.2 million to upgrade technology and Albuquerque Public Schools alone spent another 3.7 million to add computers.

Does spending more money per student add up to higher test scores? Not necessarily: The U.S. Census (2016) reports that New Mexico ranks 34th in spending per pupil with $9,693 spent annually while we consistenly pull up the rear in test scores. New York on the other hand, spends a whopping $22,000+ per student and still only rates 23rd in testing. Surprisingly, Utah spends only $6,953 per kid and according to U.S. Best States ranks number three in test scores.

It's a conundrum to be sure, the feds need educational accountability to produce the next generation of taxpaying citizens. On their website Pearson claims, "PARCC is a group of states working together to develop a set of assessments that measure whether students are on track to be successful in college and careers." The kerfuffle arises because many parents and teachers don't think much of the intense emphasis on testing, believing that the PARCC does not adequately measure a students ability or potential.

At it's height PARCC was adminstered in 23 states plus the District of Columbia. According to a 2017 report by Arbor Bridge.com "the state testing landscape has shifted in recent years leaving only six states plus the District of Columbia..." with more states considering jumping off the PARCC bandwagon.

How did we get here and can we opt out without risking the all-important 'Title 1' federal funding our schools rely on? Let's find out...In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law as part of his "War on Poverty" program. Basically the ESEA ensured that there would NOT be a national curriculum decided by the federal government, rather each state would determine their own curriculum. Also the bill ensured that children in poverty would receive addittional Title 1 funding for school programs. The money was to be allotted for "professional development of teachers, class materials and support for parent involvement." However the bill had to be re-authorized every five years and with every new congress and president changes were made effectively muddying the educational pool.

So the answer is "NO" the feds cannot take away our funding for opting out of PARCC, however New Mexico must adopt an acceptable statewide alternative. Many states have opted to use the SAT's or ACT for their exams.

Governor Lujan Grisham has appointed Lt. Governor Howie Morales to oversee the states public education department until the cabinet position can be filled.


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