Talon News - Good Local News



January 18, 2019


By David Edward Albright, TALON

With the recent cancellation, at the close of this school year. of PARCC testing by Governor Lujan-Grisham, the Aztec Municipal Schools Board began to look at the alternatives. At the January 10, 2019 board meeting, Superintendent Kirk Carpenter discussed some of the details of the Governors decision. Aztec High Principal Dr. Warman Hall, as a member of the 'Instructional Leadership Team', has researched what other states are doing regarding high-stakes testing. Hall said, "On a very timely level... today a memo came out from the PED (New Mexico Public Education Department), trying to make sense about the implications for what the PARCC looks like for this year. We are expected to give an end of the year assessment at the high school level---that is also a graduation exam."

Hall said his goal was "simply to present preliminary information" to the board, but not to "advocate any specific action". His proposal was possibly for the board to "collaborate on a mission statement" regarding the type, if any, of an exit (graduation) exam. Beginning with two research questions, he said, "why do we need a graduation exam in New Mexico?'---we hear a lot that oh it's natural, every state has a graduation exam...the PARCC was serving as that exam but that will have to be replaced". Secondly, "Are there existing standardized tests that could replace the PARCC?". Developing and implementing such an exam would be expensive, but current law requires it. Hall said many feel that it sets a goal for achievement and believe that data can show which states produce students who are "work ready" and those who are using "federal dollars appropriately". "That was the great dream of the PARCC---when it was originally rolled out," he said.

Only twelve states now require graduation tests; two years ago 27 states did and about that number used PARCC. Carpenter said only six or seven now use the test. He said the state law requires a test but doesn't stipulate which one, "so we could look at options". He said the New Mexico 'testing plan' is "considered as one of the best in the country". A discussion of both the ACT (content-based) and the SAT (aptitude-based) college entrance tests followed. Hall said both can do much of what the high-stakes tests can do. "They report data on student achievement...they are meaningful to students because at least 80% nationally are taking the ACT...driven by the fact that a number of states are requiring that (either of the tests) be taken by high school juniors".

Board member Wayne Ritter raised the question of why New Mexico ends up 49th in the nation. "If we're on the cutting edge of graduation testing, of kids going to college or knowing that they've learned something---why are we last?" Hall said, "I won't pretend to give you a clear, definitive answer...I will say that is hard to answer without talking in generalities. There are many ways to measure the success of a program...the summative approach is problematic because there are factors not only of culture but of economics---that have to be played in. To answer your question---it needs to be looked at." Ritter expressed his concern that with abandoning the PARCC, there will be no data for measuring learning and achievement success. "It creates a gap for knowing if teachers are teaching and kids are learning."

Carpenter said that even with the change that's taking place and the fact that the curriculum nationally is not uniform---evaluation and rating is inaccurate. He asserted that those states with Common Core standards and those without are "almost identical". He said one of the problems is there is "not true alignment" with assessment between PARCC and Common Core---"we're teaching Common Core but then giving them a PARCC assessment". Making testing more relevant is the problem. "The rub right now is, in our state, I guess it's because the atomic bomb was created here---everything is secret." Here the testing blueprint is given but doesn't necessarily match the actual test. "How are questions asked, what kinds of questions...so you can get people ready for it," he said, referring to how other states handle testing and test results. He gave the analogy of being provided a house blueprint but not a picture of the finished product. He said it's "backwards...in the old days you would build the lessons then the test". Now teachers are given the assessment then asked to create the lessons. "We've made it too complicated." He expressed a concern that there is too much testing compared to other countries. He suggested testing in 4th and 7th grades and before graduation as an alternative. "If you calculate the number of hours (on testing---if people say we over-test our kids---we do---for standardized tests. We don't over-assess our kids because assessments are for learning."

Asked by Board President Chairman Roger Collins his preference between the college tests, Hall said he'd choose the ACT or a choice between them. "You have to have options." He said the ACT does present or measure "workforce readiness". About states that don't require testing, Board Vice President Jimmy Dusenbery asked, "What do they do to make sure a person deserves a diploma or not." Hall said the answer varies state by state, but they "all have some sort of assessment".

The testing topic consumed well over half the meeting with the following agenda items presented and approved: (1) Five Star Fund Raiser for Lydia Rippey (2) Travel Request-Park Avenue 4th Graders to Durango Nature Studies by Jennifer Moore.

During the 'Superintendent's Report', Carpenter said about meeting at the state level, "It was most promising...probably 40 superintendents met with the Governor...I think all the right things were said...one of the things that's obvious is---that they want to work with us...I've never felt this optimistic for our kids and our state." Tania Prokop, Deputy Superintendent, gave the 'Personnel Report'. She stated regarding current openings, "We are at eight, no elementary...what's left are secondary and special education positions." Transportation Director John Laws reported that after the 80-day count the "numbers are down a bit"---from 2015-16 with 3200 kids; however, there's a minimal difference in the daily transport number, from 1590 to 1569 currently. "We are doing it with fewer buses so we are saving some money." He shared pictures of his participation as the 'Inflatable Pumpkin' in the Park Avenue Pumpkin Chase and the McCoy and Lydia Rippey Turkey Trots, "running five or six miles that day". The board expressed appreciation for all his extra work in the district.

During the 'Safety Report', Carpenter explained the 'Phone App', soon to be used by students and staff in the event of an emergency. It will "automatically locate" and notify 911 Dispatch of the position of the person who simply pushes a button on their phone. He alluded to the current 'Safety Bills' in the legislature and said, "We will continue to push some of the Sandy Hook (Promise) programs". He also said information is going out in the media regarding the Aztec Schools capital improvement 'Mill Levy Election'---to be voted on by mail-in ballot. The ballot is due by 7:00 pm, February 5, 2019 at the County Clerk's office; the last date to mail the ballot is January 31, 2019.


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