December 4, 2015

Setbacks for standardized tests in NM, nationally

Standardized tests took a blow this week nationally and locally after Congress abandoned No Child Left Behind and a local judge suspended schools’ abilities to use state teacher evaluations for personnel decisions.

Exam FrustrationOn Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the controversial George W. Bush-era federal education law if passed by the Senate and approved by President Obama.

All of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, which is usually split along party lines, voted for the bill. While the new law would still mandate schools give standardized tests to students from grades three-eight and once in high school, it restricts the federal government from measuring the results.

One of the most controversial parts of No Child Left Behind was its Adequate Yearly Progress reports, which measured progress on state-mandated math and reading tests. The federal Department of Education would hold funding from schools whose test scores didn’t meet certain benchmarks.

The Every Student Succeeds Act leaves such accountability measurements solely to the states.

Republican Rep. Steve Pearce praised the bill for giving more power to states and local communities.

“By repealing the failed No Child Left Behind and ending the President’s ability to coerce states to comply with Common Core, this legislation allows families and communities around New Mexico and the nation to tailor education plans that best fit the needs of future generations,” Pearce said in a statement.

And Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján praised the bill’s skirting of No Child Left Behind’s “rigid system.”

“For too long the United States has had a failed policy that focuses on standardized tests rather than empowering teachers to be successful,” Luján said in a statement. “The emphasis on testing comes at the expense of developing critical thinking and problem solving skills students need.”

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, also a Democrat, voted in favor of the bill as well.

“I believe this legislation is better, quite frankly, than the status quo and can work to improve our education,” she said on the House floor. “However, we cannot forget that many of New Mexico’s schools are in trouble. These troubled schools stem from a lack of leadership at both the federal and state levels.”

Those who don’t like the way New Mexico’s Public Education Department measures accountability can cheer another development. On the same day, Santa Fe District Judge David Thomson granted a preliminary injunction against using state teacher evaluations for personnel decisions in the schools.

That means New Mexico teachers can’t be placed on performance plans of denied teacher licenses for low evaluation scores.

For most school districts in New Mexico, half of the results of the teacher evaluations come from standardized test scores. Teachers unions say that more of the evaluations should be based on in-class observations.

In his injunction, Thomson writes that the state evaluation system is “less like a model than a cafeteria-style evaluation system where the combination of factors, data and elements that are not easily determined.”

The ban, which came as part of a teacher union lawsuit against the state alleging that the evaluations were unfair, will stay in place until Thomson hears and decides the case, according to the Washington Post.