Teacher’s union members and their supporters gathered in the Santa Fe Rail Yards as Hanna Skandera, chief of the Public Education Department, underwent confirmation hearings yesterday. Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association of New Mexico, said policy changes at the state level “are causing havoc in our classrooms. I just spoke with an advanced placement science teacher who was just informed that she has three weeks left of instruction for this year. The rest is going to be dedicated to testing.”
Elizabeth Austin, an instructor at the Central New Mexico Community College, said she traveled to attend today’s rally to show solidarity with her fellow union members. She said she objects to the amount of time required to implement the new statewide PARCC Assessment, which is tied to the implementation of nationwide Common Core standards, as well as new End of Course Exams required for high school graduates. It’s only February, said Austin, but “the education season in New Mexico has ended and the testing season has begun.”
Monica Chlastawe (center) teaches in Albuquerque’s South Valley at a school with a high percentage of students living in poverty. She said she’s most concerned about New Mexico’s new teacher evaluation system, which is half-weighted toward student test scores. “The way they do the evaluation is based on an algorithm that statisticians say should not be done. Sandia National Lab engineers can’t figure it out. They can’t even explain it to us. And then they’ve gotten a lot of the evaluations calculated incorrectly. It’s just crazy.” Teachers are also docked on their evaluation if they use their allotted sick days, said Chlastawe.
Ginger Koning, one of Chlastawe’s co-workers, said the Public Education Department’s policy measures under Skandera have drained the joy out of her job. “When you’re looking at this high-stakes testing, it is unbelievably overwhelming, discouraging and disheartening for our students. You see it in their faces, and you hear it every day in their voices.”
Ben, a middle school teacher who asked that his other identifying information be withheld, has been on the job for three years. He said a strong emphasis on standardized testing was not what he signed up for. “I wanted to get into my subjects. I wanted to dig into history and get into the science of the world. And the kids love it too. They’ll geek out about Stone Age cultures and the Periodic Table if you can engage them. It’s beautiful. But test culture does not engage students. They do not get excited about PARCC Practice Day.”
Margaret Wright is a freelance writer and editor born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. She has also worked as a teacher, social worker and waitress. She was promoted from contributor to managing editor of Albuquerque’s alt.weekly Alibi before going on to co-found the New Mexico Compass (R.I.P.), a digital news and culture outlet with an emphasis on mentoring fledgling journalists.
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