Governor orders end to PARCC testing

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – On her third day as governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that New Mexico will drop the oft-maligned PARCC exam after the current school year – if not sooner.

In its place, a new state-specific assessment system will be created, Lujan Grisham said. Although it’s unclear exactly what the replacement will look like, the new Democratic governor said she’s confident it can be in place by August and will meet federal requirements.

“I know that PARCC isn’t working,” Lujan Grisham said after announcing two executive orders during a news conference at the state Capitol. “We know that around the country.”

The governor, who was joined by four teachers at Thursday’s news conference, also said families and students around the state should “expect to see New Mexico transition immediately out of high-stakes testing.”

Lujan Grisham had vowed on the campaign trail to eliminate PARCC testing in New Mexico if elected, and described it Thursday as a punitive system that has pushed educators to focus on test-taking preparation, not on teaching.

Teachers union leaders, who had clashed with former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration over the PARCC exam and other education initiatives, praised Lujan Grisham’s executive orders as a positive step.

“It will be a huge morale-booster” for teachers, said Charles Goodmacher, the government and media relations director for the National Education Association-New Mexico union. “It could even convince some people who were thinking about leaving to stay longer.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said it was telling that Lujan Grisham’s first official action as governor was focused on public education.

“The governor recognizes what renowned scientists have been saying for years – that an overreliance on standardized testing turns schools from welcoming learning sanctuaries to testing factories,” Weingarten said.

However, the governor’s announcement was not met with universal applause, even among teachers.

Amanda Aragon, executive director of the nonprofit group NewMexicoKidsCAN, called Lujan Grisham’s announcement disappointing.

“I think the criticisms of PARCC tend not to be based in real information,” Aragon said. She argued that the rhetoric across the country about PARCC has become politically driven and expressed concern that Thursday’s announcement would leave teachers and students in limbo while they wait for a replacement assessment to be developed.

“If you’re a teacher or student, it’s confusing,” she said.

Members of another organization made up of educators, principals and education assistants, Educators Elevating New Mexico, also blasted the announcement, saying the governor had failed to consult with groups representing high-performing teachers and those in rural areas.

Three founding members of the organization, which was created last summer, also said in a statement that teachers unions do not speak for all educators.

David Peercy, president of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, said he’ll watch closely to see what new system the state adopts.

He told the Journal that he’s not anti-PARCC but has been against the way the test has been used. The former PED administration used PARCC scores as a factor in school grades, which were used to identify low-performing schools for potential closure, and teacher evaluations.

Walkouts, protests

The New Mexico Public Education Department began using the PARCC exam in 2015 for students in third through 11th grades.

Results from the PARCC test, short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, were used by the Martinez administration in the state’s school grading and teacher evaluation systems, both of which could now undergo changes.

The initial implementation of the annual standardized test prompted walkouts, protests and criticism from Democratic lawmakers. Nearly 5,500 students declined to take the exam in the first year it was implemented, but that number and the protests have dropped significantly. The state has also made changes, including shortening the test.

Meanwhile, the number of states using PARCC has dropped in recent years and Lujan Grisham’s decision to end it in New Mexico will leave New Jersey and the District of Columbia as the only states still fully administering it.

During Thursday’s news conference, Lujan Grisham said some parts of the PARCC exam may still be used this spring – when the annual test is scheduled to be taken – to ensure that New Mexico complies with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which she voted for as a member of Congress.

The governor also said feedback from teachers, school administrators and parents will be used to create the new assessment tool.

In addition, she said she believes the changes will be allowable under federal law, which requires annual tests from third to eighth grades but gives states flexibility in how they’re administered.

“My expectation is my leadership team deals with that proactively so we don’t have those (problems),” Lujan Grisham said.

Despite moving quickly to drop PARCC testing in New Mexico, Lujan Grisham said she’s not necessarily planning to undo all other Martinez-era education initiatives. She also heralded the recent announcement that New Mexico’s 2018 high school graduation rate had increased to 73 percent – an all-time high that still lags behind the national average.

“We want to build on that – that’s a good thing for New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said.

Education secretary

Although several Cabinet secretaries have been named, Lujan Grisham has not announced her pick to run the Public Education Department.

She said Thursday that she will unveil her choice before the 60-day legislative session starts Jan. 15, but she indicated that logistical challenges – including the $128,000-per-year salary – have complicated efforts to fill the post.

“I’m not going to move so quickly we don’t have the right person in this job,” Lujan Grisham told reporters.

In the meantime, she said Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, a former state senator and special education teacher, will temporarily take on the duties and responsibilities of PED secretary.

Morales, who also attended Thursday’s news conference, met for hours with PED employees later in the day to inform them of the pending changes.

“We want the department to know there’s stability, leadership and direction,” Morales said. He said his message to PED staffers was received positively.

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