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Next batch of NM education changes are on the way

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The state Public Education Department is plowing forward with reshaping New Mexico’s education plan, this time targeting the state’s standardized test and teacher evaluations.

Last week, just about a month after PED rolled out its plans to overhaul school accountability, the state agency announced that testing and evaluations will be the next systems to get a makeover.

But what that makeover will officially look like is unknown.

PED didn’t outline its proposed changes. Rather, it’s seeking input for updates and ideas on how to measure the proficiency of students and teachers.

Last week, surveys were posted online for the community to weigh in on both evaluations and testing. It also posted what the state was doing previously – PARCC for testing and NM Teach for the evals – for people to brainstorm.

These changes won’t happen overnight.

After the feedback period and once a proposal is drafted, PED will send the state’s proposed Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA plan, to the U.S. Department of Education.

PED Secretary Karen Trujillo has previously said that PARCC-based testing and teacher evaluations will linger – even with rapid efforts by the new governor and Legislature to alter them – until the state receives that federal approval.

“Until the (state’s education) plan is amended, I think we are under the gun to continue with that. So, I would hope, yes, this is the last time,” she said, during an interview when she was first appointed.

Trujillo told the Journal recently that PED will submit the assessment and evaluation ESSA changes to the U.S. Department of Education toward the end of April.

NM Teach and PARCC – cornerstone initiatives of the Gov. Susana Martinez administration – have been controversial since they were implemented. Opponents say the evaluations led to teachers leaving the profession and claimed PARCC data was misused. Supporters argue NM Teach and PARCC held educators to high standards and were valuable for longitudinal data.

Teacher evaluations are primarily determined by classroom observations and student test scores. PARCC measured proficiency in reading and math.

But on her third day as governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that New Mexico will drop the PARCC exam. And in another executive order, she ended the use of the test in teacher evaluations.

PED is working on developing a new standardized test for the state, according to Trujillo, and the online survey results will impact what that looks like.

In the meantime, students this spring will take an interim assessment called the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment of Mathematics and English Language Arts. It will still use a suite of PARCC questions, but it will be 1-1½ hours shorter per subject area.

To achieve this, Trujillo said, redundant questions will be eliminated.

“There may be two or three questions on the same topic area. It’s looking at those areas in the test where you can cover the same content, but don’t necessarily have to ask a question two or three times to get to that content,” she said.

Trujillo said the interim exam’s cost was included in the state’s current contract for the PARCC test and won’t cost the state additional funds.

Eventually, PED and the governor have promised the state will completely move away from PARCC and any variation of that test.

“It’s going to be a heavy lift this summer to figure out what it’s going to look like, but by August we’ll have a very good picture of what it’s going to be in the future,” Trujillo said. “And it may be a one year transition or two, but I think at some point we are going to get where we need to be.”

In addition to the online surveys, PED is currently touring the state to get in-person feedback.

Trujillo is hoping for some significant changes to the new test, such as making it more culturally relevant to the state, but she emphasized that Common Core is not going away.

“For us, I think our priority is making sure the standards don’t go away. We still follow and make sure that we have high expectations of our students and of our teachers, but looking at something that is more reflective of who we are in New Mexico,” she said.

PED also proposed nixing and replacing A-F school grades. That plan was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on March 1.

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