“The problem with standardized tests is that it’s based on the mistake that we can simply scale up the education of children like you would scale up making carburetors. And we can’t, because human beings are very different from motorcars, and they have feelings about what they do and motivations in doing it, or not.” – Sir Ken Robinson
COMMENTARY: Now that school has started, New Mexicans will once again debate increasingly invasive standardize tests in public education. Since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, more testing has fostered enormous anger and frustration among teachers, students, and parents.
These feelings reached a boiling point this year. In Las Cruces, furious parents claimed schools were left open during a February snowstorm only because a standardized test was scheduled. In March, over 1,000 students statewide walked out of school in an organized protest when testing started. And many are joining groups like New Mexico Optout to express their opposition.
While doing research for a law last year that would limit testing to 10 total days, educators across the state told me about how testing constrained their ability to teach. Test days ranged from 20-26 per year in Las Vegas to 73 days per year in Albuquerque.
And constant testing is really tough on kids. In Las Cruces, a group of Mayfield students conducted a survey of 480 local high school students. Seventy-nine percent said standardized testing left them either “Very Stressed” or “Overwhelmed.”
Are you concerned as well? If so, there are concrete things you can do.
First, not all tests are state mandated. School districts choose to give additional ones, and many may no longer be necessary. As part of the state budget process this year, districts will be required to audit all standardized testing by the end of September. Is every test really necessary? If so, are teachers getting results back in time to make a difference, if at all? If not, you should ask your school board members to end them.
Second, many districts allow students to withdraw from taking standardized tests. Last year more than 5 percent of Albuquerque students opted out, while in New York state that number was 20 percent. If you feel strongly about this, check with your district to see if they have exemption forms available. Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe public schools all do.
However, as students and parents, please research everything about the process before choosing this route. For instance, while elementary/middle school students are currently not effected by an opt-out, a high school student who graduates by passing all classes without taking state mandated tests will be given a certificate of completion rather than a diploma of excellence.
State universities don’t make any admission distinction, so far, based in which type a student has, but out-of-state or private schools may and there have been issues obtaining federal student aid for students who don’t have the more widely recognized diploma.
Last? Elections have consequences, so make your voice heard. Gov. Susana Martinez has made her preference for testing well-known, and even though turnout last year was the lowest in 70 years she was re-elected. Therefore, the state Education Department will continue to make them a priority.
However, all state legislators are up for election in 2016 and primaries are only a few months away. There will be forums, debates, and other opportunities to meet candidates. If you care about testing go to them. Ask candidates where they stand and what they are doing to create a saner system.
Use those answers to help decide who you support. And vote. If you don’t, the only person to blame is in a mirror.
In my election last year, this was by far the most talked-about and emotional issue people had. If you really care, exercise these ways to make a real and deep difference in your community.
McCamley is the state representative for District 33.