NM’s new assessment must Pass the Test

On Jan. 3, her third day in office as New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham abolished the PARCC standardized test in grades three-12 and promised a replacement that meets all federal Every Student Succeeds Act requirements would be implemented in August. It was an ambitious, heavy lift.

Today, it’s Aug. 11.

School starts Monday for most Albuquerque and Rio Rancho public school students, and is already in session for many across the state. While families await their students’ results from this spring’s PARCC lite — a slimmed-down version that was really the only responsible option if the governor’s administration wanted to maintain ESSA compliance and not put federal dollars at risk — teachers, administrators, students and taxpayers are awaiting a decision on what, if anything, will replace it.

And by all accounts — academic, fiscal, logistical, emotional — New Mexico should stick with PARCC lite or some version thereof rather than totally abandon years of longitudinal data.
A Test of Resolve: Reinforcing High Expectations and Student Progress in New Mexico was released Thursday. The report is a joint effort of New Mexico KidsCAN and Teach+Plus, education advocacy groups that support much of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s reform efforts and include some of the state’s highest-rated teachers (based on student achievement). The report cites the progress our students have made and makes it clear the improvement must continue. PARCC data from 2015-18 shows:
* New Mexico students were improving — more than 13,000 additional students reading at grade level; more than 11,000 additional students doing math at grade level.
* Achievement gaps were being narrowed — NMKidsCAN executive director Amanda Aragon points out New Mexico’s Hispanic, Native American and African American students have made more progress than their counterparts in any of 18 other PARCC states. (Originally administered in 24 states in 2010, in 2020, the only jurisdictions likely giving the full PARCC test will be the District of Columbia, Illinois, the schools managed by the U.S. Department of Defense and some schools overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Like New Mexico’s PARCC lite, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Massachusetts mix PARCC items into custom-built tests.)
* The need for remedial coursework in N.M. colleges dropped from 50% to 33%.
Those results are exactly what the Common Core curriculum, adopted under Democrat Gov. Bill Richardson, is designed to achieve.
And so Aragon is right that it is essential the state continues to have a reliable measurement of how our students, and thus our teachers and schools, are doing. Despite improvements in some areas, just 30% of N.M. students can read at grade level and 20% can do grade-level math. Those PARCC results jibe with NAEP, ACT and SAT results, and it is imperative any new assessment does the same across the grade levels to warrant confidence. (NAEP targets only fourth and eighth grades, ACT and SAT juniors and/or seniors.)
The new testing should also — and the report reiterates this —
* Be rooted in excellence, with standards that test critical thinking and real world skills, and results that align with other trusted measurements.
* Be aligned with economic opportunity so our students are prepared for college or to earn a living wage.
* Be designed to use time and money wisely. Teachers and students do not need to waste time re-learning a testing system, nor do they need to experience the hardware and software nightmares of other states that switched from PARCC. Aragon says the state has cut spending on testing by 40% in the past five years, and that money should stay in classrooms.
* Be thoughtfully planned and executed. Change is hard, and it is important to recognize administrators, teachers, students and parents have put time and tears into adapting to and trusting this new test. It now takes fewer days and gets results back by the end of the school year to inform educators’ lesson plans (though families get their copy of results weeks after that).

Terri Cole, CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and representative of the folks who ultimately hire our students, sums it up with it’s vital any new assessment “gives us a baseline so we are not starting over.”

Lujan Grisham kept her campaign promise and dumped PARCC. But New Mexico, which will already spend more than $3 billion on K-12 education this school year, has to comply with the Yazzie/Martinez court ruling that makes “maintaining longitudinal data on student performance that can be compared to recent data collected on PARCC” paramount.

So some version of PARC lite is the most responsible move forward.

As Aragon says, “let’s build on the progress that we’ve made. Because we’ve put our parents, our educators and our kids through enough change over the last decade. Let’s make it easy for them to continue to show progress, and let’s do the hard work of digging in and saying ‘what is it gonna take for us to make dramatic improvement year over year? Improvement rooted in excellence, improvement rooted in honesty.’ ”

The alternative is starting from scratch, and our kids, our teachers and our state just can’t afford that.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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