FOR THE RECORD: This story contained incorrect information about Advanced Placement tests. In most districts, including Albuquerque Public Schools, students are not required to pass the AP exam, or even take it, in order to pass a high school AP course. AP exams are used to qualify for college credits. Incorrect information was provided to the Journal by the state Department of Education.
The Albuquerque Public Schools board Wednesday night voted 5-2 against sending parents a letter informing them they have the right to opt their children out of certain standardized testing, and providing sample opt-out letters.
Board vice president Kathy Korte and member Lorenzo Garcia voted in favor of sending parents the letter.
The vote came after Shelly Green, the APS chief academic officer, and Carrie Menapace, policy analyst, presented an explanation of the consequences of opting out, grade-by-grade, for students, teachers and schools. Depending on the grade and the test – End of Course exams, Standards Based Assessments or Riverside Interim Assessments – consequences vary.
They include affecting the ability to evaluate teachers, impacting a school’s grade, removing an opportunity for a student to demonstrate competency or affecting a student’s ability to graduate. For some grades and tests, there are no consequences, Green told the board.
Many of the board members, as well as APS Superintendent Winston Brooks, said that the situation regarding testing, graduation requirements and teacher evaluations is so confusing that a letter informing parents of their opt-out right would just complicate matters and might lead many parents to conclude that APS was encouraging parents to do just that.
Korte made an impassioned plea to the rest of the board as an audience of about 30 parents and teachers watched.
“I pray this board will approve these letters,” she said, adding that they had been “vetted by our legal department and they are unbiased,” and that parents have the right to know they can take this measure.
The board took up the testing opt-out issue after being pushed by Korte. She has been fighting reforms implemented by the state Public Education Department, particularly the emphasis on testing and the PED’s method of student and teacher evaluation.
In an email to the Journal earlier Wednesday, state Public Education Department spokesman Larry Behrens said boycotting tests makes it difficult to determine where students stand academically.
“We wouldn’t advocate students cutting class, or skipping out on homework. Asking them to boycott a test because they don’t like it sets the example that our students can quit on anything they find difficult,” he said.
Further, the consequences of failing to take some tests could be significant. For example, failing to take the ACT or SAT leaves a gap in a critical requirement to enter college; failure to take the Advanced Placement tests means students would not receive credit for the course, essentially failing that class.
End of Course exams, which were created by the PED, are a bit different. If a district uses this in place of a final exam and a student fails to take it, the student’s grade will be negatively impacted, Behrens said. The PED discourages districts from using both a final and an EOC exam, he said.
High school seniors who do not take the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment jeopardize their graduation, particularly if they also fail to take End of Course exams. In addition, Behrens noted, under federal law, if fewer than 95 percent of a school’s students take the SBA, a school’s A-F letter grade ranking automatically drops and the federal government could impose penalties, including loss of federal funds and other sanctions.
Korte called the EOC exams “bogus,” and said the Riverside Interim Assessment is a “big boondoggle.” Teachers, she said, “aren’t even using it to inform their instruction because it’s not being implemented very well. It’s another test that’s wasting teachers’ time.”
She stressed that it’s important for parents to understand the consequences of boycotting some standardized tests, and she defended the opt-out sample letters, pointing out that they tell parents wishing to exercise that right to “contact your school’s principal or testing coordinator” for more information.
Following the APS meeting, Board President Marty Esquivel said that he did not get the impression that boycotting or opting out of tests was a big issue for parents. “What I am hearing is ‘can’t we get a better handle on the number of tests we’re administering?’ There’s a strong feeling out there that we’re overdoing it on tests and teachers are only teaching to the tests.”
Esquivel said he’d like to determine “what tests are really necessary and what do we identify as a good marker for measuring achievement in our students and our schools.” The opt-out letter “would not allow us to get to the meat of the issue.”
Esquivel said he would like to see a color-coded calender for elementary, middle and high schools, August through May, “showing all the tests we are administering and how much of our 180 days are devoted to testing as opposed to teaching.”
Then we could “step back” and determine if any tests could be eliminated, he said.