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Teacher union claims PED imposes ‘gag rule’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state’s largest teacher union says its members are upset over a nondisclosure form that prohibits them from making remarks that “disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of standardized tests.”

The Public Education Department, meanwhile, said the uproar is much ado about nothing.

After teachers undergo training on how to give standardized tests, they’re required to sign a nondisclosure form saying that to prevent cheating, they will not disclose the contents of the test.

The disclosure form also asks them if they’ve reviewed state rules regarding security for standardized tests. One of the rules is that they are not to “disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of standardized tests.”

“This ‘gag rule’ impedes the abilities of our educators to provide positive, constructive criticism and feedback which would lead to smarter testing practices that actually improve and inform more effective teaching and learning,” the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico said in a statement. “This nondisclosure statement is too broad, too vague, and too likely to tread on the rights of teachers and school employees as advocates for kids.”

Teachers fear they could potentially lose their licenses if they speak out against standardized tests, said Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation.

PED spokesman Larry Behrens said that is not going to happen. He said there are penalties for cheating but not for speaking out against the tests.

“This is a ludicrous red herring that no one seemed to care about for the last (five) years until now, less than (three) weeks before an election,” Behrens said. “This clause has been in every security form since 2009, when it was a state regulation passed by the Richardson administration. Since then, no doubt teachers have voiced opposition to assessments in general, and the number of teachers who have lost their license over it is exactly zero. No teacher will face disciplinary action from PED for speaking their opinion.”

Bernstein acknowledged the requirement is not new but said teachers noticed the language because there is now increased frustration over standardized tests and their use in teacher evaluations and in the state’s A-F school grading system. Standardized test scores make up 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score.

Albuquerque Public Schools has modified the nondisclosure form it gives its teachers, said Shelly Green, the district’s chief academic officer.

The form now says, “The prohibition against disparaging or diminishing the significance or importance of standardized testing applies to staff only during the duty day and when using district email communications.”