Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera said earlier this legislative session that her agency doesn’t include practice time in numbers it quotes regarding total time the tests require, an about-face from past statements from the department.
Skandera relayed the new information in a February 3 Senate Finance Committee meeting in response to Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, who has worked as a special education teacher.
Her agency has relied on a consistent set of numbers in public statements meant for students, parents and educators, many of whom are increasingly concerned that standardized assessments detract from valuable classroom time. Those numbers, such as the ones quoted in this March 2014 handout, are reassuring:
Overall, on average across all grades, state-mandated testing time has decreased by about 30 minutes per year. Today, less than two percent of the school year is dedicated to state-mandated testing.
Those same figures were emphasized in an Albuquerque Journal piece from September 2014, though the writer does insert an aside that the “less than two percent” numbers do not reflect “the window set aside to administer” the state’s new set of standardized tests.
None of that fits with what the PED communicated back in the fall of 2013 when then-spokesperson Larry Behrens responded to criticisms leveled during the first wave of organized pushback against the state’s school reform policies.
Here’s his answer via email when asked how many state- and federal-mandated tests teachers were required to administer during the 2013-2014 school year:
With the exception of 10th grade students taking the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment (NMSBA,) state mandated testing has not changed at the high school level in more than 5 years.
State law has required “short-cycle” assessments in grades 9 and 10 for several years, before this administration.
State mandated testing is a very small part of the time students spend in a classroom. Students spend about 1,100 hours in classrooms. Of this about 8 or 9 hours are used for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment (NMSBA) – amounting to about 0.7% of the time. Interim assessments, which are not required, are substantially shorter and may bring this total up to 1% of the time. If we assume a student must take six (6) End of Course (EoC) exams, the total time spent on state mandated testing is about 1.2% of their total time in school every year.
Moreover, the laws passed mandating certain state tests existed before this administration took over.
When asked how much time each test takes, including prep time and administration, Behrens simply referred back to the answer above.
This was before the NMSBA was replaced by the Common Core-aligned PARCC. But the PED has often repeated that PARCC will require the same amount of school time as the NMSBA, if not less. The NMSBA was the former state-designed exam used to measure academic skills in key subject areas for students in grades 3-8, 10 and 11.
New Mexico Political Report asked the PED’s Chief of Staff Ellen Hur to explain the discrepancy between Behrens’ answer and the one Skandera gave on Feb. 4. This was her response:
As background: testing time for students amounts to less than 2 percent of total instructional time throughout the course of the year. Schools have been given guidance that prep for administering the assessments should be completed prior to students entering the testing environment.
When asked again (“Can you please explain the disparity between the information Mr. Behrens provided and what the secretary said in the committee hearing?”), Hur relayed nearly the exact same phrases:
Testing time for students amounts to less than 2 percent of total instructional time throughout the course of the year. Over the last four years, testing time on required assessments has decreased by 2.5 hours across all grades.
Again, as background: Schools have been given guidance that prep for administering the assessments should be completed prior to students entering the testing environment.
Sen. Morales said last week in an interview with New Mexico Political Report that the Skandera’s response to his inquiries “proves we are testing more, and they’re contradicting themselves.”
Classrooms should be more focused on providing quality instruction and less on administering standardized assessments, said Morales.
“We’re paralyzing the opportunity of the student to have true, appropriate and sufficient education.”