PARCC opt-out rates may hit schools' grades - Albuquerque Journal

PARCC opt-out rates may hit schools’ grades

a01_jd_07mar_aps opt-outCopyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

A quarter of Albuquerque Public Schools now stand to drop a letter grade on next year’s state-issued report cards because more than 5 percent of their students have refused to take a new statewide test.

New Mexico public schools students this month are in the midst of taking the state’s new computerized standardized test – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career exam.

The state’s penalty for schools that drop below 95 percent participation on the test is they drop one letter grade on their A-F school report cards. This was also true when the state gave the Standards Based Assessment.

Meanwhile, it is possible there could be federal penalties, including loss of funding, for dropping below the 95 participation rate as statewide testing is mandated by the federal government.

But just exactly what the federal government will do is not known, said Rose-Ann McKernan, executive director of instructional accountability at APS.

“I don’t think it’s clear,” she said.

As of Thursday, 4.11 percent of APS students had opted out of taking the test and 37 schools had fallen below the 95 percent threshold, according to district data. The district has allowed parents to file opt-out forms notifying schools their child won’t be taking the test.

The drop in letter grades won’t show up on this year’s report card because there is a year lag time between the testing and the report cards, McKernan said.

“They need to remember that” a school’s grade drop might have been the result of opt outs, McKernan said.

Of the schools that have dropped below the 95 percent threshold, 26 are elementary schools and nine are middle schools.

One traditional high school — Eldorado — fell below the threshold. So did one alternative high school — Freedom High.

Elementary schools have significantly smaller enrollments than high schools, so as few as 20 test refusals has pushed some schools below 95 percent participation.

Of the schools that fell below the threshold, some are very close to 95 percent participation. For example, as of Thursday, exactly 5 percent of Hubert Humphrey Elementary School students had opted out of the test.

But at some schools, the percentage of students who refused to take the test was up well over 20 percent. At Bandelier and Chamiza elementary schools, the percentages of students who opted out of the test as of Thursday were 26 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively.

None of these numbers is set in stone, however.

It is possible more students will opt out. It is also possible that some families who have chosen to opt out their students could change their mind and allow them to take the test — which has happened this week, McKernan said.

The PARCC exam, which is broken up into a several smaller subtests, is given in two testing windows that span several weeks, so there is still time for students to take the exam.
The district’s opt-out numbers also don’t reflect students who chose to walk out of testing sessions earlier this week but whose parents didn’t fill out the paperwork to formally opt them out of the test.

For the students in the district who are taking the test, things have gone relatively well in this first week of testing, said APS interim Superintendent Brad Winter.

There have been glitches with the computerized test, but the district has worked with the state and Pearson — the education company the state has a $6.2 million contract with to administer the test — to get them fixed, he said. Most of the glitches were on Pearson’s end, Winter said.

Meanwhile, Winter said school officials have heard from students who said the test was not as hard as they expected, especially compared to practice exams that were available online.

Not all agree that the test is easier than expected. A student at Wednesday’s APS school board meeting said she and her peers were finding the test difficult.

New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera has said she is disappointed that some families have decided their children will not take the test, but that students who have taken the exam should be applauded.

Her department on Friday echoed Winter’s comments in saying there have been no major glitches with the test to date.

“It has been a positive first week thanks to the hard work and preparation efforts of our teachers, principals, school technology staff and district leaders,” said Ellen Hur, Public Education Department chief of staff.

New Mexico switched from the SBA to the PARCC exam because the new test matches the Common Core standards, which the state adopted in full last year.

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