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Rushed decision on PARCC wastes time, money and hard-fought progress

At Educators Elevating New Mexico (EENM), we believe in the transformative power of teaching and learning in our students’ lives. We know, and have seen firsthand, the power of good educational policy that can improve instruction for all students, and how bad policy inhibits it.

The governor’s announcement last week regarding the gradual replacement of New Mexico’s statewide student assessment (PARCC) is a step backward in educational policy with negative repercussions for all stakeholders. At EENM, we believe in future-focused innovation, continuous improvement, accountability and in transparency. However, this executive order was rushed, ill-informed, and made before talking to educators from all regions of New Mexico.

It happened without doing a cost-benefit analysis, and despite the Legislative Finance Committee’s support of keeping (costs down while maintaining continuity with the results in hand and reforming) PARCC.

To be fair, we know teachers who think this might be good education policy. However, most in this camp are generally anti-testing period or dislike the accountability and transparency that comes with it. We must all remember that statewide student assessment is a civil rights issue, is nationally mandated, and is the only consistent way that New Mexico tracks our students’ progress. The “high-stakes” piece is a totally separate issue – let’s not conflate things.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the law of the land, and our State Plan is federally-approved and considered one of the best by several bipartisan, independent groups.

In that context, here are the Top Ten reasons, in no particular order, why this is bad education policy:

1) Millions of dollars, wasted: Creating a new assessment is expensive – these valuable New Mexico taxpayer dollars belong in the classroom.

2) Longitudinal data, lost: We will no longer have consistency in student data – yet tracking New Mexico’s progress over time is critical given the Yazzie/Martinez (school funding) ruling.

3) Disrespecting educators’ efforts: Growth achieved by thousands, with current assessments, will be discounted.

4) Undermining students’ efforts: Imagine you’re a student – does the announcement mean that PARCC didn’t or doesn’t matter?

5) Frustrating families: Now comfortable with Individual Student Reports (ISR) – do they now start all over?

6) Doubling testing time: New assessments require field testing, thereby doubling testing time.

7) Increased administration time: PARCC administration currently takes each student about one day, total.

8) Re-training: New assessments require additional proctoring training for everyone.

9) Confusing colleges: NMPED put out guidance on how PARCC aligned with SAT/ACT/NAEP/College GPA, and how to utilize scores for admissions and scholarships. Is that out the window?

10) Re-opening honesty gaps: We could return to an era of dishonesty – like the era under our previous exam, SBA. If we lower the bar for student competency by falsely inflating scores, New Mexico would misinform students, families and educators.

Another big concern is how this impacts Excellence in Teaching Awards. New Mexico’s highest-performing teachers have worked tirelessly to achieve two-years’ growth in a single year and have been recognized for that. Will that end now, too? That concern can be put on pause for now – as our students and families must come first.

A new assessment does not change how our students are actually doing. We must continue to motivate students and develop teachers, not dumb-down the assessment, expect less and ultimately fail our kids by making the test easier for them to pass. Teachers, students and families deserve answers to the questions that impact our schools and classrooms the most. We’ve gone from having the best plan in the country to dismantling it overnight. Last week’s announcement is creating confusion that was totally unnecessary.

We stand ready to find a better path forward.

This letter was signed by 81 educators from 21 counties across our state. Educators Elevating New Mexico (EENM) is a statewide, nonpartisan group of educators dedicated to improving student achievement and upholding high standards for the students, teachers, administrators, policymakers and the schools of New Mexico. EENM provides opportunities for all levels of educators to use their voices. We stand for accountability and transparency, continuity and innovation. We put our students first in all decisions, and in doing so, we elevate our profession.