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Letters to the editor

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Cut back on tests, address cultural bias

RE: EDITORIAL “NM needs to pass, not fight, education tests”

As an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, much of my research focuses on the positive and negative impacts of national education policies and movements like Common Core State Standards.

I agree that well-designed assessments have a place in our educational system and it is important to know that a student in New Mexico is getting the same quality of education as a student is in New York. However, your argument makes a few broad assumptions about the opposition to testing while missing some important details.

First, I have found that many teachers find it valuable to see how their students compare to students across the country. Their problem isn’t necessarily with testing in general, but the amount of tests, which keeps increasing. Why do we need to give students three or more separate tests a year, cutting out weeks of classroom time?

Second, another problem teachers have expressed to me is cultural bias. Exams designed and piloted thousands of miles away in a very different place than New Mexico are likely to penalize our students by including words or cultural concepts uncommon in our state.

This cultural bias is evident by the notable absence of standards for English Language Learner students in the Common Core State Standards. Around 20 percent of New Mexican students are English Language Learners but these students are only given a passing mention in Common Core State Standards.

Yes, we need high standards for all students while assessing whether or not they are meeting these standards; however, we need to do much more to limit the amount of tests our students face while ensuring they accurately measure the abilities of all students, whether from New Mexico or New York, English Language Learners or not.

TODD RUECKER

Albuquerque

 

Education reform must be team effort

RE: NOV. 26 Winthrop Quigley article “Civil discourse needed in education debate.” I would like to thank Quigley for pointing out the problems in both the media perspective and issues that few seem to want to consider. Problems like poverty, hunger, home problems and health issues have a huge impact on our students. …

If people still believe teachers are against an evaluation system, then they just are not paying attention. We welcome evaluation, but not at the cost of our students’ well-being, or our professionalism. If anyone truly believes we are interested in protecting teachers who are not doing their jobs (they) are just looking for excuses. If anyone believes we don’t care about our students, I am at a loss for words.

What we do is important work and I believe we do (it) quite well under the circumstances. How can we improve when the deck seems to be so stacked against us. Our classroom numbers get larger and larger, the budgets we have to work with get smaller and smaller. …

Why do many of our graduates not have the skills necessary to succeed? Our system has taught them that just getting by is OK. Who in their right mind actually believes that a D- is a passing grade? Who actually believes you cannot go to work or school and be allowed to make up what you missed with no penalty regardless of (why) you were gone? Who actually believes that if a person cannot handle the workload they have been given the solution is to add more work?

I love what I do and I could not be more proud of the educators of our state and the rest of the country. We need to come together to work as a community to solve this problem. Include all of the stakeholders, not simply pass rules and regulations down from upon high. Students, parents, teachers and community members have some great ideas. We should be invited to work with those in charge to make our state and our schools better. … We can do it, but it has to be a team effort.

KARN GUSTAFSON

Albuquerque

Test in March distorts year of instruction

WE JUDGE a farmer’s ability to grow crops at harvest time, the end of a full growing season. It wouldn’t be fair to taste a farmer’s corn in July, find it to be bitter and deem the farmer ineffective. But after 13 years of status quo in New Mexico, that’s exactly what we do to teachers.

Since the passage of “No Child Left Behind” the status quo in New Mexico has been to order all aspects of our educational efforts around a single fallible test that takes place in early March.

Teachers are expected to cover 100 percent of a school year’s content when as little as 65 percent of their instructional time has been made available.

I invite the Journal’s readers to check the math. Under a perfect schedule, with no interruptions to teaching, the test on which a teacher’s career now depends takes place after about 72 percent of the instructional hours have been made available.

At the middle school where I work, which is not on a block schedule, math and language arts teachers are required to administer additional PED-required tests that consume as many as six more instructional days before “The Test” is administered. So we’re now at less than 70 percent. …

We haven’t factored in student conferences, fundraising assemblies, picture days, chronic truancy, fire drills, or any of the other random interruptions entirely beyond a teacher’s control, not to mention the crippling, brain-inhibiting effects of New Mexico’s nationally notorious poverty.

Sixty-five percent of the year to teach 100 percent of the content! Does any rational reader of the Journal believe this is fair? The Hanna Skandera/Susana Martinez policy of threatening a teacher’s career based on this evaluation model entrenches the status quo in a way that is randomly punitive, and the inherent distortion of the instructional year continues to be catastrophic for our students.

Farmers and other cyclical professionals get an entire season before their outcomes are judged. Teachers should be treated as fairly. I know a lot of teachers. I’ve never been able to find a single one who defends the status quo.

BERNARD FULLER

Albuquerque

Teachers are not only factors in equation

WHY DO 50 percent of New Mexican college freshman need remedial coursework before they can start actual college level courses? Could solid educational standards improve these statistics?

I can tell you one absolute certainty about human nature: without a measurable performance standard the majority of people will not perform adequately, and certainly not optimally. Think about an instance in which a teacher’s union adopted meaningful performance standards that could be used to hold teachers accountable for academic results. What is your count?

What can a parent do if the public monopolized education system performs poorly? Once challenged you can count on the education bureaucrats to offer self-approved and glowing evaluations of their performance. I submit that we cannot trust the intransigent educational culture to set its own standards and evaluate its own performance. The community must have a say.

I am not asserting that educators are 100 percent responsible for the academic performance of their pupils. However, they are 100 percent responsible for delivering a quality education. Likewise, students are responsible to fully participate in order to achieve optimal results. It is not fair to hold the educator accountable for a student’s poor performance when the student’s parents are uninvolved, or the student is recalcitrant. Any fair educator’s performance standards must acknowledge the ability of students and their parents to sabotage the educational process and then protect the teacher from a tarnished performance evaluation.

We could implement a mechanism to protect teachers who have failing students despite the teachers’ best efforts. Take a case in which the teacher has a class with a certain threshold of students failing. … A panel of administrators, not from the teacher’s supervisory pool, and community parents could evaluate components of the teacher’s documented performance: testing, remediation, academic counseling, outreach to parents, etc. When a student fails despite the verified fact that the teacher was found to have adequately taught the curriculum and implemented appropriate actions to redeem the failing student the teacher is not held accountable.

Is this reasonable?

GREG KIDWELL

Albuquerque

 

Students don’t take all tests seriously

IN ALL OF the articles on teacher evaluations, I don’t recall seeing a discussion of the students and their effort when it comes to taking standardized tests.

According to several teachers I’ve spoken with over the years, students know when a test affects them personally and when it is solely for measuring overall performance of the school with no bearing on their own progress.

Thus, if I was a teacher, I would be concerned with the ever-increasing amount of time spent on testing – preparation for and actual taking of the tests – and the equivalent reduction in time spent on subject matter instruction, especially for tests with no direct impact on the individual student.

For tests that have no affect on their personal progress, it is my understanding that students don’t take the tests seriously and are just as likely to fill in answers randomly as they are to make a legitimate effort at answering the questions.

Of course, this doesn’t even address the problem for a significant percentage of students who have difficulty with simply taking tests regardless of their level of preparation. I doubt anyone would appreciate having their job performance evaluated based on a bunch of blindfolded kids throwing darts at a dart board.

This is just another example of how we have lost the proper focus in education. Rather than having students acquire and retain fundamental knowledge that will serve them well as adults, we have a system that emphasizes retaining just enough knowledge for a short period of time to pass the next exam.

We are creating generations of students who have perfected filling in small circles but who cannot effectively add, subtract, read or write. This does not bode well for having an educated adult workforce.

JAMES E. TURPIN

Albuquerque

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