Fort Sumner testing back on track

By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

Fort Sumner School District has had strict mandates put forth to ensure testing is administered correctly this school year, a state education official said this week.

But the district will not face further repercussions for failing to order the proper tests last year.

The state has instituted new checks and balances for its officials as well since Fort Sumner Superintendent Lecil Richards accepted blame for failing to order new, state-mandated tests for fourth- and eighth-graders.

Richards announced his retirement in late December, citing health concerns and the opportunity to save the district money as reasons. Fort Sumner school board members said Richards was not asked to resign and they have discussed hiring him as a consultant.

Don Watson, assistant secretary for assessment and accountability at the state Public Education Department, said as a result of the mixup two Fort Sumner administrators were required to attend all state training sessions. All teachers administering the test were also given training.

In July, PED officials said consequences could be as severe as revocation of Richards’ license, but Watson said no such sanction occurred because the incident was an oversight and “not malicious.”

Richards said Wednesday he was prepared to comply with any state sanctions.

“Basically, I made a mistake and you have to face the consequences and you do what you have to do to correct it,” said Richards, who has served as Fort Sumner superintendent for 12 years. “You just hope the kids aren’t hurt in the process.”

The new tests, which measure student performance against the state’s academic standards, were implemented under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The state has taken steps to ensure no future oversights, officials said. Testing is set to begin at many schools across the state at month’s end.

Watson said officials have taken a statewide count prior to test administration. Officials have developed pre-coded test labels including the student’s name, gender and other necessary information in hopes counting will be easier at testing’s conclusion.

“There is almost no way they wouldn’t have the tests available this year,” Watson said.

Fort Sumner schools were rated as not meeting state standards because they didn’t take the state-mandated tests. However, if the schools fail to meet state standards this year they will be dropped to level “school improvement 1,” which would require them to fund transportation for children choosing to attend another school.

“So there is a fiscal impact that way. They have to spend their money to provide additional services,” Watson said.
School Counselor Mary Ann Cortese has taken responsibility of overseeing testing at the school. She said district teachers and students will not be under extra pressure to perform this year.

“I don’t think so because we have always performed well on the tests,” Cortese said.

Indeed, Fort Sumner primary and secondary schools had been rated as “meets standards” — and in one case “exemplary” — by the state since 2000. Fort Sumner 11th graders were administered the correct tests in 2004 and scored above average in reading and math.

“We are going to do the best we can with what we have,” Richards said. “Our kids are going to perform well, our teachers are going to perform well and we will just let it fall from there.”