By Margaret Wright
—In the last week, the Compass has been writing about parents, educators and students objecting to the state’s new exam plans. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Del Norte High School in Albuquerque on Tuesday, Oct. 22. About a week later, the grassroots movement took its protest to the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Inside, the Public Education Department was holding a meeting to clarify its policies with school administrators.
Department spokesperson Larry Behrens responded to Compass questions via email yesterday afternoon. His answers have been been edited only to conform to Compass and AP style.
How many state and federally mandated tests are teachers required to administer this year?
With the exception of 10th-grade students taking the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment, state-mandated testing has not changed at the high school level in more than five years.
State law has required short-cycle assessments in grades 9 and 10 for several years before this administration.
State-mandated testing is a very small part of the time students spend in a classroom. Students spend about 1,100 hours in classrooms. Of this, about eight or nine hours are used for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment—amounting to about 0.7 percent of the time. Interim assessments, which are not required, are substantially shorter and may bring this total up to 1 percent of the time. If we assume a student must take six end-of-course exams, the total time spent on state mandated testing is about 1.2 percent of their total time in school every year.
Moreover, the laws passed mandating certain state tests existed before this administration took over.
Who designed the tests?
In the case of the NMSBA and end-of-course Exams (EoCs), all questions and proficiency issues were determined by New Mexico teachers.
What do the tests measure, and how?
They examine proficiency (whether or not a student is on grade level) and, if not, the level they are currently performing.
I’m hearing from teachers that they feel overwhelmed by the workload that new student tests and teacher evaluations place upon them, and that state requirements are constantly changing. Your response?
We have heard from teachers and principals that for the first time they are having key discussions about student performance like never before. We worked hard to develop an evaluation system which utilized data from tests and work already being administered.
I heard repeatedly that morale among public school educators is at an all-time low. What is PED doing to address this issue?
We have teachers and school districts all over the state who are adjusting to the new evaluations, who are embracing reform, who are asking legitimate questions, who are communicating with us. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and I’m confident that this new system will better recognize our great educators and show us where we need to improve.
Districts like Santa Fe and Las Cruces are able to work within the state framework to implement an evaluation. Yet, the political narrative from one district seems to drive the false notion that teachers are against this reform.
What measures does PED have in place to ensure that feedback from parents and educators “in the trenches” is being registered and incorporated into reform efforts?
Many of the recommendations incorporated into NMTEACH (the teacher/school leader evaluation) were voted on and agreed upon by the Effective Teaching Task Force in 2011. This group, made up of teachers and parents and business leaders met extensively in public. Their meetings and final report can be found here.
Additional meetings, like those held last night, are key to meeting face-to-face with educators to hear feedback. There have been and will be many more across the state.
Lastly, PED has teamed up with the New Mexico PTA to begin hosting more opportunities to reach to parents starting in November.