It was a moment where I was both excited and anxious. Months and months of hard work led up to a single test demonstrating how much I had grown. There would be no make-up exam, no grading on a curve and only one student would capture the top prize. The rest of us would be ranked, top-to-bottom, based on this single static score.
This particular test was a two-mile, cross country race, and I finished second.
I would venture to say that all of us have faced a test in our lives – actually probably numerous tests. Indeed, many of us still face tests every day and we recognize that they are a part of life, because we must pass tests to get into college, serve in the military, and attain a job, a promotion and a raise.
Even though many of us understand tests are a part of the real world, you wouldn’t know it by the rhetoric raised by those who are fighting New Mexico’s educational reform. If you believe the hype, students are spending anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of their school year filling in bubbles on a test form. Any parent signing permission slips for field trips knows our children aren’t testing every day.
To those looking to fight education reform, the facts are irrelevant. However, there are some who might see these falsehoods spread and wonder how much of it is true. Here are four important facts about state-mandated testing in New Mexico:
- Since 2010 on average across all grades, state-mandated testing time has decreased about 30 minutes per year.
- More specifically, we have cut testing time on the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment by 15 percent on average.
- The vast majority of state-mandated tests were instituted years, and in some cases, decades ago. For example, those end-of-course/final exams have been state law since 1986.
- What is new about our state tests can be summed up in one word: accountability. We are now using the data from these tests to hold ourselves responsible for what our students are learning.
With this accountability comes discomfort for those who fear shedding light on student achievement.
We all take tests in life. I remember facing more than a few and the feeling was always the same: if I was prepared, everything was fine. If I wasn’t prepared, there was anxiety and worry. Today is no different.
It’s time for common sense to prevail in the discussion on testing. The truth of the matter is, if a student is on an athletic team that practices for two hours a day, Monday through Friday, that student has participated in more athletic training just two weeks into the season than the amount of state testing they’ll do all year. In fact, the success of a team is sometimes measured by a single game, in a single day. Coaches are deemed successful based on their record. I remember when I was coaching; no matter in middle school or at the college level, my success was determined by the athletes I coached.
In 2011, we adjusted the state testing window at the request of school officials from all over New Mexico because it conflicted with the state basketball tournament. The reasoning offered was that our students had spent weeks and weeks preparing for this single tournament. Yet there is no chorus of calls to end athletics in our schools, nor should there be.
I would argue our students’ academic achievement results deserve just as much priority as our athletic results.
From my second-place finish, I learned how much progress I had made as a runner and how much harder I had to train to attain my personal goals. In the same way, our assessments help us be accountable for where our students stand and how much work we have to do to help them reach not only basic standards, but to maximize their potential. For those who are uncomfortable with the results of the assessments, not testing is the only solution.
Tests are a part of the life our students will encounter inside and outside the classroom. We can’t release ourselves from accountability because a select few are worried about what the results might show.