Educator: New tests rejuvenate the state

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

Local and state school officials admit the state-mandated testing system has had its fair share of critics, among them superintendents, teachers and parents.

But school officials believe the number of people who attack the state’s measurement of knowledge will diminish in the upcoming year with a set of standards-based tests slated to be administered to students in grades 3-9.

The old tests compared New Mexicans to students nationwide, and were not a good measurement of knowledge, state and local school officials said.

“It’s fairer overall than the old system,” Zia Elementary Principal Geralyn Butler said. “It’s rejuvenated our whole state. For the first time we are able to give teachers the standards and benchmarks, that if they take care of instruction, the students will perform well on the tests.”

A recently released survey shows 22 percent of parents of Clovis students last year did not believe the state-mandated testing system improved their child’s education.

The question — “I believe the state-mandated testing system improves my child’s education” — received a higher percentage of “disagree” and “strongly disagree” responses from parents than any of the 15 questions.

In all, 3,294 parents returned the survey. There were 8,200 surveys sent home with the district’s students.

Assistant Superintendent Ladona Clayton said the school board decided to add the question because of parental concerns after the state implemented mandated testing for all students two years ago.

“We need to continue to educate our community about what this testing is … I think this response will get better with time,” Clayton said.

Some of the concerns — which Clayton said will get better this year with new state testing — were that students were spending too much time out of instruction to take the state-mandated tests.

“Two years ago our students had to take two tests, the Tera Nova and a standards-based assessment … Unfortunately our students spent anywhere from three to four weeks in testing, and that’s a lot of time out of instruction,” Clayton said.

This year, students in grades 3-9 will take a standards-based assessment test in the spring, which will last about a week. Last year, grades four, eight and 11 took the standards-based tests.

The new tests are based on state standards developed by an expert panel of New Mexicans, said Kurt Steinhaf, deputy secretary of education for the New Mexico Public Education Department.

“They identify a set of standards: Those are the things a fourth-grader should be able to do, that a fifth-grader should be able to do,” Steinhaf said.

The new tests — unlike the old — will also be applicable to New Mexican students, rather than some of the previous tests, which norm-referenced for students nationwide.

For example, the state test wouldn’t ask a younger student to label a fire hydrant, because there are parts of the state that don’t have fire hydrants, Steinhaf said.

“The reason New Mexico is changing from norm-referenced to criterion-referenced (or standards-based) is because the norm-referenced tests have proven not to be valuable and not applicable to state standards,” he said.