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Over-testing takes focus away from curriculum

Over the last few years our state has seen a massive push from the governor’s administration to drive education improvements through an increase in testing in our schools. In isolation, this might seem like results-minded reform, but in conjunction with the testing efforts already in place, the resulting “over-testing” is taking the learning right out of our schools.

In the last few months, I have received hundreds of complaints about over-testing from teachers, parents, students, principals and concerned New Mexican Democrats and Republicans. These complaints also stress deep objection to the continuing trend of out-of-state, for-profit testing companies’ intrusion into the classroom.

Conceptually, citizens and legislators agree that our state is in dire need of improvement in our education system. Over the last decade, our school system, locally and nationally, has been transforming. New technologies, new challenges and new pedagogy have changed the way we learn and the way we teach.

We also have come a long way with academic performance measurement. We now know just how behind our kids are and how we stack up to other states because of standardized testing and common core curriculums, which enable comparison and progress-tracking year after year.

However, recent efforts have swung the pendulum so far that now a test is the ultimate factor in determining how intelligent a student is and how well a teacher can teach.

School rankings, teacher evaluations and retention reform efforts stack on top of many national and existing testing requirements, making our schools mere testing machines. This takes away focus from the curriculum, designed to prepare students for higher learning and life in general, leaving them ill equipped for critical thinking and real-world problem solving.

Most of these new tests are written by for-profit, out-of-state corporations, who naturally have an incentive to make the case for even more testing in our schools. As a result, testing is now championed for the sake of testing, reform for the sake of reform.

Instead of being a means to an end, tests are now an end in and of themselves.

Currently, there is little room for the individual maturity and growth of students, not to mention flexibility for issues at home or learning disorders. In today’s system, if you fail a test in kindergarten, second grade or eighth grade, chances are you’ll be playing catch-up the rest of your academic life.

As I learn more about these new reforms, I realize that there is little to no chance I would have had the same opportunities in today’s test driven environment, and I worry what it will be like for my daughter.

We must consider alternatives to the current evaluation system. This is why I am urging the governor to place education reform as a topic for re-consideration in the upcoming legislative session. New Mexico’s students need real New Mexico solutions to our educational issues, not just more testing from for-profit companies.

Sen. Tim Keller, an Albuquerque Democrat, is a candidate for state auditor.

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