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Editorial: NM needs to pass, not fight, education tests

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Nobody likes a test they don’t do well on.

That sums up vocal opposition to new teacher evaluations, end-of-course exams and common core curriculum initiatives being rolled out in New Mexico and other states as the U.S. struggles to regain competitive economic footing in a global economy.

The reaction here, not unlike other places, has been to pressure the New Mexico Public Education Department to throw out those tests. Throw out teacher evaluations tied to student improvement. Throw out end-of-course exams that bring the same standards to all public schools. Throw out the challenging common core curriculum.

Even though some states that have embraced similar reforms are already scoring higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, better known as the nation’s report card.

The New York Times in an editorial this week pointed to two of those jurisdictions – Washington, D.C., and Tennessee – which have made significant gains in NAEP in the last two years. Tennessee jumped nine places in fourth-grade math and seven in eighth-grade reading. The Times editorial board, hardly a bastion of conservativism, concluded that “improvement is possible if the states strengthen their resolve and apply solutions that have been shown to work.”

Yet in New Mexico, teachers are marching in black to protest reforms while union leaders are claiming a “culture of over-testing and high-stakes testing is killing effective teaching and learning.” No one is contending the rollout has been without problems or that changes can’t be made to make it more effective. But that takes good faith, civil discussion and flexibility on both sides.

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s NAEP reading and math scores are flat or worse. Around half of the state’s students can’t read or do math at grade level. Three out of every 10 students are not graduating on time. Yet 99 percent of teachers are rated as satisfactory.

And business and technology leaders are saying New Mexico’s public schools are an obstacle to their efforts to attract economic drivers and innovation to the state.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has advocated for the reforms and recently countered criticism of common core with the observation that the status quo doesn’t like proof it isn’t as good as it thought it was.

So as a state we need to consider that, while nobody likes a test they don’t do well on, we can prepare for, and improve our performance on, that test. Just ask Finland, Poland and South Korea, where students routinely outscore their counterparts in the United States.

If New Mexico wants to give its children a fighting chance in the recovering national and evolving world economies, it needs to get them ready to compete on those stages.

Because while nobody likes a test they don’t do well on, few people will hire someone who can’t pass one.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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