Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Lawmakers grilled a New Mexico Public Education Department official for three hours Thursday about the state’s standardized test for U.S. history this year that omits questions about such hot-button topics as Rosa Parks, Roe v. Wade, and the atomic bomb attacks on Japan that ended World War II.
Some members of the Legislative Education Study Committee and the public called the omissions an attempt by PED to “whitewash” or “sanitize” history.
Matt Montaño, PED’s deputy secretary for teaching and learning, responded that history teachers themselves omitted items from the state’s lengthy history standards to reduce test times and respond to teachers’ requests for more information about the tests.
Emotions ran especially high in regard to the decision to omit questions about civil rights leaders and events.
Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, told Montaño that the courageous action of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1955, “is the reason I can sit here as a black woman and question you about what has been redacted.”
About 40 people in the Roundhouse hearing room applauded the House majority leader’s comment.
“Is it a done deal, and is there any opportunity for change as we go forward?” Stapleton asked. Montaño said he would weigh the comments of legislators and the public. He also said that PED could restore the deleted items, but made no promise to do so.
Several lawmakers remarked that questions about the history exam arose shortly after PED announced proposed science standards that contained changes, omissions and deletions from the nationwide Next Generation Science Standards, promptting an outcry from scientists and educators.
Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski announced Oct. 25 that New Mexico will adopt the Next Generation Science Standards as written, with the addition of six state-specific standards.
Sen. William P. Soules said that PED’s proposed science standards led to “heightened concern” that PED is trying to “sanitize” teaching standards for political and ideological reasons.
“It seems to me this is a subtle way of changing what will be taught,” Soules, a Las Cruces teacher and Democrat, said of the U.S. history exam. “If it’s not going to be assessed, it’s not going to be taught.”
The deletions appeared in an end-of-course exam “blueprint” posted recently on the PED website. The exam blueprint is based on the state’s social studies standards for high school students. Lined-out material indicates which portions of the standards will not be included on the test.
The deleted topics include: trusts and trust-busting; strike-breakers; populists and William Jennings Bryan; McCarthyism and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee; military bases and the national laboratories; dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan; the impeachment process; the demise of slavery; and racial and ethnic conflict resulting from the growth of cities.
Montaño cited a variety reasons for the deletions, including the need to keep tests to a manageable length, and eliminate redundant questions included in other end-of-course exams. As an example, he said two questions about New Mexico’s role in the development of the atomic bomb are included in the New Mexico history exam, and one in the physics exam.
Montaño responded that the state’s history and social studies standards remain unchanged, and that teachers are responsible for teaching all the material in those standards. Montaño noted that he was raised in a Hispanic community in Bernalillo, and defended the standardized tests as way of ensuring that students of all backgrounds are getting access to high-quality curriculum.
“This is not sanitizing our standards,” he said. “That is not what I intended. We were asked by teachers to give greater clarity and specificity” about questions students will be asked on standardized tests, he said. The omissions were selected by teachers recruited by PED, by email and at conferences, who worked with a PED-hired consultant.
“Our standards are very broad,” he told lawmakers. “You cannot test every word in the state standards.”
Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, a U.S. history teacher at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School in Albuquerque, responded that a New Mexico history course would deal differently with the atomic bomb attacks on Japan than a U.S. history course.
“They don’t seem like arbitrary strike-throughs,” Romero said of the deleted material. “They seem pretty pointed.”
Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero called the omissions “part of a larger concerted attempt on a national level to erase and rewrite” the history of civil rights and social movements.
“Do not rewrite our history,” said Roybal Caballero, who said she participated as a youth in civil rights protests. “This is our history, and we have been willing to put our lives on the line for it.”