Closing the PARCC: Opinions differ on removal of test

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The PARCC education assessment has met its demise.

Courtesy Photo

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Jan. 2 ordered the state’s Public Education Department to terminate New Mexico’s use of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers standardized test, commonly known as PARCC.

The executive order called on the PED — still without a permanent director — to work with key stakeholders to identify and implement what Lujan Grisham called a more effective, more appropriate and less intrusive method for assessing school performance and have it comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The development of the new approach will include teachers, administrators, parents, students and recognized professionals and experts in student assessments, aiming at a sounder methodology for evaluating New Mexico schools,

“This is the first of many steps we will take to transform education in this state,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release. “High-stakes tests like PARCC do our schools a disservice, and we are about empowering our school system. Including those who will be most empowered by a better assessment in the process will help us build something better from the ground up, as opposed to a test mandated from on high.”

In her second executive order, Lujan Grisham called for an end to using PARCC in teacher evaluations, with PED tasked with incorporating into its analysis a variety of proven means of measuring teacher efficacy.

The governor also announced that Lt. Gov. Howie Morales will take on the duties of cabinet secretary at the Public Education Department until the administration identifies a full-time appointee to lead the agency.

Among those in the Cabinet Room when the governor issued the executive orders was a Rio Rancho teacher, Billie Helean of Maggie Cordova Elementary.

The view in Rio Rancho

The executive orders delighted Rio Rancho High School Principal Sherri Carver and Cleveland High Principal Scott Affentranger.

“I’m glad PARCC is going away,” Carver said. “(I) never liked the test to be included in teacher ‘evals.’ Good teachers will continue to do what they do best, which is teaching, no matter what evaluation system is in place.”

Carver said she was concerned about whether PARCC would be continued for the remainder of this school year because, “We are gearing up (for the upcoming testing period).”

Affentranger said he believed most educators were pleased with the governor’s actions.

“The PARCC test took students several hours to complete and, arguably, was not a great reflection of what they were being taught, therefore student motivation to do well was not high,” he said. “When growth in the PARCC was made part of the evaluation system, that upset most educators and was one of the reasons we have been calling the evaluation system unfair. I don’t think the removal of PARCC will have any negative effects in teaching and learning.”

He said many people would like to see the ACT test considered as a way to evaluate high schools.

RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland said the new governor’s decrees were anticipated.

“Most of the original PARCC consortium states are no longer using the exam,” Cleveland said. “We know that the (PED) will be working with districts on a new plan for student assessment. We look forward to working with them as we recognize the value of having an instrument that helps to measure student understanding and improve instruction.”

District 9 state Sen. John Sapien (D-Sandoval, Bernalillo counties) applauded the changes.

“I am confident that her efforts will only help us identify the best practices to ensure that our children are given the tools to continue to succeed in their educational endeavors,” he said. “The school grading and teacher evaluation systems relied on flawed algorithms, which were never tested to prove accuracy, never peer-reviewed.”

Looking ahead, he said, “The current system will be reformed and help our teachers become better educators and not just be penalized for missing days at work due to illness or family tragedy, or for a test that was administered on their past students’ proficiency.”

There was dissension

District 60 State Rep. Tim Lewis, a Republican and Cibola High School teacher, wasn’t as happy.

“I would never hold PARCC as being perfect, but needlessly casting it aside will cost a lot of time and millions in funding,” he said. “As a teacher, I know the law requires us to asses our students to help ensure they are learning. What the new test looks like in the future, and will it better serve our students, is unknown.”

Also, stating it was deeply disappointed, Educators Elevating New Mexico, a nonpartisan educators group, released a statement following Lujan Grisham’s executive order.

“Today’s announcement was a sign of disrespect toward’s (sic) so many of our state’s teachers, students and families — many of whom have not been consulted or listened to on these decisions of great importance for our kids,” the statement said. “From Clovis to Gallup, from Gadsden to Des Moines, we have all worked incredibly hard to improve student achievement — and we are proud to have a statewide assessment, as required by federal law, that measures actual college and career readiness.”

EENM said the governor didn’t consult it or other educator groups that represented rural communities and high-performing teachers.

“The myth that the teachers union speaks for all teachers must come to an end once-and-for-all,” the statement said.

Later in the week, EENM sent a letter listing 11 reasons — among them, millions of dollars to be spent creating a new assessment — for its opposition. It was signed by 64 state educators, including seven with RRPS.

“… New Mexico teachers are left with no answers to the questions that impact our students and families and classrooms the most. Anxiety is high, uncertainty is high, and anger and low morale will likely follow,” EENM added.

Teachers’ unions on-board

State teachers union presidents expressed excitement and approval over the end of PARCC.

Teachers no longer have to fear testing, said Betty Patterson, president of NEA-NM and a Rio Rancho resident with grandchildren in Rio Rancho schools.

“They can go back to teaching students in their classes and not just doing test prep,” she said. “Students can stop worrying about the test. Many special-education teachers can feel free to meet IEPs (individual education plans) and students’ needs. Teachers need to be encouraged to be creative again!”

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico union President Stephanie Ly found it “extremely encouraging” that Lujan Grisham had acted on a major promise and showed that educators and communities will be “empowered to use our expertise and experiences to create and implement assessments and instruction that better serves our students.”

“… (This) is a victory for students, families and educators,” she said.