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Posted March 10, 2015

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State Testing Underway

Read Superintendent Brad Winter's column on testing that ran in the Journal on March 10.

During springtime in New Mexico, there are two things that are certain: wind and public school testing. The tests have changed over the years, as has the format and even the purpose. But standardized testing in March is as inevitable as blowing dust.

This year, for the first time, students in Albuquerque Public Schools and across New Mexico are taking the PARCC, a reading and math test for third- through eleventh-graders. PARCC (which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) was created by a consortium of states to measure knowledge of the Common Core standards adopted by New Mexico and most other states a few years ago.

The PARCC exam replaces the New Mexico Standard Based Assessment that students took last year. Both tests measure student success, as well as the success of our teachers and our schools. In addition, both the SBA and now PARCC serve as a high school exit exam that students must pass to earn a diploma.

Our job as a public school district is neither to advocate nor resist the state-mandated test, but to administer it to the best of our ability. And that’s what we’ve done.

The PARCC is an online test, a first for New Mexico students who traditionally have used #2 pencils to fill out bubble sheets or write short answers in a test booklet.

Preparing to shift from a written to an online test has been a challenge for APS and districts across the state. We’ve spent years preparing to give this test: updating technology; making sure we have enough computers to accommodate all of our students; and training tech and test coordinators, teachers, staff and even students.

We worked out complicated schedules to make sure students had plenty of time to complete each subsection of the test, while limiting the disruption to classroom learning.

In the weeks prior to the test, we checked our systems, then checked them again (even in the days and hours before the test was to be administered). By the time students logged on for the first time last week, we felt confident they would be able to focus on math problems and reading passages rather than computer glitches. Sure enough, that’s what happened. I’m happy to report that we had few problems as more than 64,000 APS students took the test last week. And the issues we did face were addressed immediately.

All that preparation paid off, and I can’t say enough about the APS testing and technology teams that spent countless hours making sure our kids could comfortably and confidently take the test.

I know some of our students – and some of their parents, as well – are very unhappy about this test. Their biggest complaint is that students spend too much time taking standardized tests and not enough time learning. Others have complained about the cost of standardized tests and there are those who don’t like the Common Core standards.

I respect their opinion and their right to express it, though we did tell students we wouldn’t tolerate protests that interfere with the educational rights of others, become disruptive or thrust students into danger.

On the other hand, we embrace social engagement, and encourage students, parents and employees to express their opinions.

They might consider:

  • Writing a letter to their school board member, legislator or other elected official;
  • Registering to vote and exercising that right;
  • Attending public meetings to voice their concerns;
  • Organizing a petition drive; or
  • Contacting local media to express their concerns.

We’ll wrap up this round of test in a couple of weeks, just in time for spring break. It will be a well-deserved break for our students, families and staff. Just watch out for the blowing dust.

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