New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham came out of the gate Jan. 3 by suspending the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) standardized test and the New Mexico Public Education Department's questionable teacher evaluation system, fulfilling two of her major campaign promises.
Grisham’s executive order was hailed as a success both at home and nationally as taking a positive step toward evolving the state’s educational practices.
While lobbyists and politicians had nothing but praise about Grisham’s decision, it left many school officials in Rio Arriba County scratching their heads and asking, what’s next?
Mesa Vista School District Superintendent Michael Lovato said he is hesitant about the decision.
“I don’t know what is coming next,” he said. “No one has talked to us about what is going to replace PARCC (the test), if it’s the same test with a different name, then they haven’t achieved anything. My concern is that there will be so much change, that I worry about what support for Districts is going to look like in filling those holes.”
There has been no communication from the New Mexico Public Education Department about changes or how they will work, he said.
“The executive order was to dismantle,” he said. “Meaning that everything will be in place this year and we will see what happens next year. As of right now, we are finishing the year with PARCC (the test) unless we find out from the state to stop.”
Fairview Elementary School Principal Wilmer Chavarria shares Lovato’s concerns, and doesn’t believe that the state and the Department will come up with a better alternative to the test, he said.
“The alternative that New Mexico has given us in the past is worse,” he said. “So when you get rid of PARCC, now, sure that is a thing to celebrate, but do I trust that New Mexico and the administration is going to come up with something better than PARCC? No. I doubt that, and I am worried about that.”
To Chavarria, Grisham’s decision could result in a zero sum for education in the state.
“If you want to do a quality test and copy PARCC, then you are basically just doing another PARCC and taking Pearson’s name out of it, what have we achieved?” he said. “I do not want PARCC, but I didn’t mind it when it was a thing because I knew it was the only thing that could tell me if my students were learning what I wanted them to learn.”
Among teachers in the Española School District the biggest relief about the test being suspended is that the current teacher evaluation system, largely based off student test scores, was also suspended. Among those is Dixon Elementary School third and fourth grade teacher Heather Harrell.
“It is a huge relief,” Harrell said. “I want to be a good teacher, but I don’t want to be a good teacher because my kids do well on PARCC, that is a ridiculous standard, in my opinion.”
Aside from evaluations, she believes that it is a relief to her students.
“Students in third grade are just basically just starting to get their language and writing skills, just barely,” she said. “Then they are expected to sit down to PARCC for hours and hours of computer activity, when they might not even have computer literacy skills yet and read directions that are geared toward an adult mentality, just the literacy of PARCC is way over their heads, it was a definite set up for failure.”
Española Middle School Math Teacher Damon McGinn, while not disliking the test as much as many of his colleagues, shares in Harrell’s excitement over evaluations.
McGinn said PARCC aligned with federal Common Core standards and was harder than he thought it needed to be.
“What I am really happy about, and I would have been happy if we kept PARCC, but not attaching it to my evaluation in the way that it was being done,” he said. “I don’t mind using it to look at where we need to make adjustments or improve, but I don’t agree with attaching an assessment to my evaluation.”
“Governor Lujan Grisham hasn’t even had time to unpack and she’s already making good on her promises,” New Mexico Democratic Party Chair Marg Eliston wrote in a press release. “From now on, we will hold our schools accountable with assessments built with students in mind and with the wisdom of educators and parents. I look forward to a process where all stakeholders in education help build the next generation of student assessments.”
American Federation of Teachers National President Randi Weingarten joined in on the back-slapping by thanking the governor.
“After years of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s obsession with testing over teaching, New Mexico now has a governor who wants to work with educators, not against us, and do what works for kids, parents and schools," he wrote in a press release. "Elections matter.”
As questions surrounding the future of standardized testing and teacher evaluations mount, for now the test will still be in effect for the 2018-2019 school year.
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