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NM PED reducing PARCC test time further

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera on Tuesday announced a reduction in PARCC testing time across nearly every grade.

In most cases, test time will drop by 30 to 40 minutes when the standardized assessment is next administered in spring 2018.

Fourth- and fifth-graders are the only students for whom there will be no change in PARCC – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – which measures proficiency in math and English language arts.

“We’re excited,” Skandera told the Journal. “Our commitment is we put the big pieces in place, now how do we continue to refine and serve our students, our parents and support our educators better?”

This is the second time the Public Education Department has reduced the time needed to take the PARCC test. Skandera decreased testing time by about 90 minutes before the 2016 exam, and across the two reductions, the time has fallen 15 to 20 percent in total.

For instance, third-graders will now spend seven hours and 45 minutes on PARCC – about two hours less than they did in 2015, when New Mexico first administered the exam.

The time required to complete PARCC has been a source of controversy since the state replaced the Standards Based Assessment with it to meet federal requirements for standardized testing of public school students.

Skandera also announced that the testing window for PARCC will start two weeks later in the school year than it does now, which adds up to 10 more instructional days before students tackle the rigorous exam. Under the plan, the testing window will be cut from six weeks to four weeks and last from mid-April through mid-May.

Additionally, districts will receive final PARCC scores four weeks earlier – in July rather than August – starting this year.

The changes were driven by parents, teachers, superintendents and community members, Skandera said.

Last fall, PED held 25 public events to receive feedback about the state’s educational goals. The meetings – attended by roughly 660 people across New Mexico – helped shape PED’s plan to meet new federal requirements laid out in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Skandera said she repeatedly heard requests for less exam time, a later testing window and faster results.

“We’ll keep improving on it, but we need high-quality assessments, high expectations, really shifting our expectations to align not with New Mexico standards, not just with national standards, but with international expectations for kids to be set up for success,” Skandera said.

The state’s two teachers unions – which have both opposed PED for imposing PARCC and using the scores in teacher evaluations – gave the changes mixed reviews.

“While a small reduction in the time students are actively testing sounds good on paper, educators must still spend extraordinary amounts of time preparing students for the PARCC exam,” and that time “is not acknowledged by the NM PED,” said Stephanie Ly, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico.

Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association of New Mexico, applauded the PED for listening to stakeholders but said the teacher evaluation system is still a concern.

In March, Albuquerque Public Schools, New Mexico’s largest school district, criticized PARCC in a written response to the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan.

The district held its own series of forums on ESSA, “and APS stakeholders were incredibly strong in their belief that (standardized) assessments should look and feel drastically different than they currently do,” APS administrators wrote in the report.

“Therefore, APS is disappointed at the continued focus of the ESSA draft plan to utilize the PARCC test as its main measure of student performance and overarching tool for accountability.”

ESSA, which replaced No Child Left Behind with bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, gives states more oversight of their education policies, including testing, but still requires standardized testing similar to PARCC.

PARCC – a computerized exam that aligns with Common Core, a set of English and math standards – generated some student walkouts across New Mexico when it was first administered in 2015, though the protests died down the next year.

The test was developed by Pearson, a British multinational publishing and education company, and is currently used in seven states.

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