Education Feature: State student testing revamped

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

The New Mexico Public Education Department is remodeling standardized tests for high school students designed to map out their academic lives after graduation.

State education officials say the tests will follow the progress of individual students, instead of comparing the progress of an entire class.

Clovis school officials are optimistic the new tests will cater to individual needs of students and prepare them for life after graduation.

The tests will track students’ high school, college and workplace readiness, according to Catherine Cross Maple, deputy secretary of Learning and Accountability for the Public Education Department.

The new tests represent a “shift in thinking” on teaching at the high-school level to address the state’s dropout rates and increase the number of college-bound students, Cross Maple said. Aside from the standardized tests, this shift includes increased lab requirements and one more year of math for high school students.

The plan calls for the new tests to be phased in over three years starting with ninth-graders in the 2008-2009 school year.

Cross Maple said the revamped tests given to ninth-graders will map out their high school readiness and concentrate on math, reading and science. They will be tested on college readiness their sophomore year and for workplace readiness as juniors, Cross Maple said.

The Adequate Yearly Progress tests currently administered to ninth- and 11th-graders will be eliminated.

“The tenth grade will be the standards based assessment, so it will be high stakes accountability assessment, on which the school is graded,” she said. “The test will be used two ways: One to meet high school requirement and also for the school’s ratings on their school accountability requirement.”

The eleventh-grade assessment will come with career requirements that would show students what they need to do to prepare for college or for a technical school.

Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said the new tests could change the workload of students.

“We would hope that if something is worth testing it’s worth teaching,” she said. “And if the state of New Mexico decides as a whole that kids need particular skills to go into college or the workplace, that’s what we’d be teaching.”

The AYP test is a component of the No Child Left Behind Act, which tests students’ reading and math skills.

Portales School District Assistant Superintendent Priscilla Hernandez said she is not sure how the new tests would affect students or teachers at Portales High School.

“We always do our best to make sure that we follow procedure and the students do well in all the tests,” she said.

Seidenwurm said the new tests promises to offer a better accountability of schools than what is currently offered by the No Child Left Behind Act.

“It’s a way for states to maintain accountability and get away from the really negative impact that No Child Left Behind has had on schools,” she said. “It’s growth data on kids, which is good, that’s what we ought to be looking at.”

While the concept sounds good, Seidenwurm said school districts will have to wait and see if the tests will be a benefit.

“Well, the devil is always in the details,” she said. “No Child Left Behind sounded like a good idea, until we saw how it actually played out.”

The redesign of the standardized tests will cost about $3 million, Cross Maple said. The department already has about $1.5 million and is hoping to get more funding from this year’s state legislative session, she said.