The state Public Education Department’s refusal to release statewide spring standardized test results for New Mexico public schools that participated in the testing is a misguided, and unfortunate, decision early in the tenure of Public Education Department Secretary-designate Kurt Steinhaus.
Misguided because the results aggregated by school would clearly seem to fall into the definition of public records. Unfortunate because it raises the inevitable question of “what are you trying to hide?” undercutting Steinhaus just a few weeks into his assignment.
In announcing that the results would not be made public, the department said that only 10% of public school students in the state – far short of the 95% NMPED says are needed to make valid comparisons – participated in testing last school year. The testing was made voluntary for school districts because of COVID-19.
NMPED said the low participation rate, along with inadequate access to broadband internet for students, social and emotional impacts on teachers and students during the pandemic, and other factors would make it impossible to have a valid interpretation of data from the spring.
OK. Caveats noted.
But those are no excuse, legal or otherwise, for not releasing the results the state does have of the New Mexico Measures of Student Success and Achievement test, which is designed to measure English and math proficiency for students in grades three through eight. And especially during a time legislative analysts say the pandemic caused public school students to lose an equivalent of 10 to 60 days of instruction time.
None of the excuses change the fact that parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve to see the data from schools that did participate (Albuquerque Public Schools declined, along with Rio Rancho and Las Cruces.)
Alexis Alvarez, NMPED’s director of accountability, also said data from schools that participated in testing might not be representative of the entire state – at a 10% participation rate that seems pretty clear – and that affluent districts might be overrepresented.
Again, caveats noted.
Meanwhile, the NMPED is urging school districts to administer some form of standardized testing this fall in order to gauge where students are academically. An excellent idea, but, this being New Mexico, of course it’s optional. Some will and some probably won’t. We don’t have a coherent state education policy or expectation of accountability.
But we do have some standardized testing data from last year – albeit limited. So, give us the caveats, then give us the data. It’s not up to the government to decide whether the public has access to these numbers.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been a strong transparency advocate, as demonstrated most recently by putting a quick stop to unacceptable public records practices at the Children, Youth and Families Department.
If Steinhaus doesn’t have a change of heart and release this data, the governor would be well served to step in and make it happen.
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.