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Proposal would protect students who opt out of standardized tests

SANTA FE – An interim New Mexico legislative committee debated a proposal Thursday that would establish new protections for students whose parents decide to opt them out of certain standardized tests.

Meanwhile, Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera outlined her agency’s plan to increase K-12 school spending by nearly $100 million – a 3.9 percent increase – in the coming budget year, as school issues took center stage at the Capitol.

Senate Majority Whip Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, told members of the Legislative Education Study Committee that he will introduce a bill during the coming 30-day session that would clarify the impact of a parental decision to allow children to skip certain standardized tests.

Although parents can already legally request such waivers, Keller’s proposal would prevent the request from affecting a student’s ability to participate in sports or other activities, move up in grade level and graduate, among other things.

“Right now, we’re looking at an environment where students are just test-taking machines,” said Keller, who added that his proposal is based on similar Texas legislation.

But at least one member of the education panel said school testing has always played an important role.

“I don’t understand … this huge resistance now to testing,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs.

The “opt-out” issue recently became heated in Albuquerque, when school board members debated whether to send parents a letter informing them they have the right to opt their children out of certain tests. The proposal was voted down.

Student test results play a key role in a new state teacher evaluation system mandated this year by PED over opposition from some parents and educators.

Under an $18.5 million pay hike plan unveiled this week by Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez, merit pay bonuses for educators would be tied to the evaluations. That plan also calls for a 10 percent salary hike for new teachers.

The state’s public education chief said Thursday that she has received largely positive feedback from lawmakers in preliminary discussions about the pay proposals.

“The general perspective I’ve heard so far is this is a good balance,” Skandera told the Journal.

Leaders of several local teacher unions have sharply criticized parts of the plan, specifically the merit pay component.

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, described the proposed stipends tied to the teacher evaluation system as “insulting.”

She said all teachers statewide deserve a pay raise and disputed the Martinez administration’s claim that the plan would bring new teachers to New Mexico.

“Temporary money for a few people does not recruit and retain teachers,” Bernstein said.

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