NM students graduating in 2024 won't need to pass some tests - Albuquerque Journal

NM students graduating in 2024 won’t need to pass some tests

Students move to their next classes at Valley High School in August. In 2024, students will not be required to pass additional demonstrations of competency, which often take the form of standardized tests. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

In a normal year, high school seniors have to pass certain, often standardized, tests as an additional demonstration of what they’ve learned before they can graduate.

But, under a change announced by the state Public Education Department this week, students graduating in 2024 won’t need to pass standardized tests – or any other additional demonstration of competency – in order to complete high school.

Students will still have to take the tests, said Lynn Vasquez, director of Assessment and Learning Management System, in written responses to Journal questions. But the scores of those students – who are currently juniors – will not be used to determine their graduation eligibility.

The change, Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said in a memo, is being made based on advice from the U.S. Department of Education to “take additional steps to reduce the high stakes of assessments in such State decisions as graduation or promotion requirements.”

“This decision was not made lightly,” Steinhaus wrote. “Given the impact of the pandemic, this decision will afford our schools time to focus on quality instruction and more meaningful balanced assessment practices – both of which are necessary for acceleration.”

There are currently no plans to continue the practice beyond the 2024 cohort, who were chosen because they were in the ninth grade at the outset of the pandemic and need “continued instructional support to catch up on (unfinished) learning,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez added that cutting down the time spent on testing and retesting for that additional demonstration of competency will help maximize the time spent on quality instruction.

According to National Assessment of Educational Progress results released in October, New Mexico students brought up the rear in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math proficiency out of the more than 50 states and jurisdictions that were sampled.

That said, most of the country faced setbacks. No state, for example, improved in fourth- or eighth-grade math, and only a few states improved in reading – and those that did, did so by a maximum of two points.

Many state and national education officials point to the pandemic as a driving factor for a dip in student achievement this year.

The class of 2024 will still be required to meet course requirements and pass the classes that demonstrate they’re competent in math, science, social studies, reading and writing.

Whitney Holland, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, applauded the decision, adding only that she would like to know more about what the change looks like in practice.

“We’re still seeing students who have trauma and adverse childhood experiences, and so I’m hoping that this gives educators time to focus on the mental health components of child well-being,” she said. “This hopefully opens up a door for more time for actual focus on teaching and not teaching to a test.”

On the other hand, Amanda Aragon, executive director of the education advocacy organization NewMexicoKidsCAN, questioned how much time would be saved for instruction if students would still be taking the test.

She added that the additional demonstration of competency is an important part of setting students up for success, and said she worries about the effect that waiving the requirement would have on the class of 2024’s future.

“At some point, we have to say, ‘OK, we went through this really awful (pandemic), and it’s our responsibility as policy makers, as educators, as school leaders, as superintendents to get our students back on track,’ ” she said. “At what point do we hold ourselves accountable to that, instead of adjusting the policies to address the disruption two years ago?”

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