Area schools begin mandatory federal testing with mixed feelings

By William Thompson: Quay County Sun

It’s testing time again for area public school students: Time to put the books away, take a deep breath and attempt to show education officials in Santa Fe and Washington, D. C. how well students are learning math, science, English and social studies.

Students will be taking the Standards Based Assessment Tests this month, and the results will be printed next year in the District Report Card — actions federally mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The tests are an important way to gauge both student and school performance, said Don Watson, director of assessment and accountability for the New Mexico Public Education Department.

“The tests provide to teachers a way to look at their overall instructional approach,” he said.

But Tucumcari schools Superintendent William Reents said he doesn’t think the tests are an accurate measure of students’ intelligence or ability.

“What I have trouble with is the sheer fact that we place all of a child’s learning and knowledge on a single test,” Reents said. “What’s more important is that a child has an understanding of that knowledge. Some children are good test takers. Some children are intelligent, but don’t do well on tests.”

According to the District Report Card released recently, Tucumcari High School failed to meet the public education department’s average yearly progress requirement last year, Reents said.

“Our scores were fine, but the education department said we failed to meet our average yearly progress requirement because we didn’t have enough Hispanic students taking the test,” Reents said. “The problem with that is there is no way to determine if a test taker is Hispanic or Caucasian because it is up to each student how they wish to identify their racial background.”

A student with a Hispanic surname like Cordova is free to mark either Hispanic or Caucasian as his or her race, Reents said, making it, in his opinion, impossible to say how many Hispanic students took the test at the high school last year.

Watson said new steps have been added to the testing procedure to ensure an accurate count of Hispanic students.

“The determination of what ethnic background a student is will be determined early in the year and the tests will come with pre-coded labels with ethnic background information for each student.” Watson said. “Students will no longer choose what ethnic background they are at the time of the test.”

Reents questioned students’ incentives to do well on the tests. Test results do not affect graduation or grades.
But Watson said the state has attempted to remedy the incentive problem: Test scores will now be recorded in students’ school transcripts.

Tucumcari High School student Clay Beevers said he already takes the tests seriously.

“I want to perform well and I want my school to perform well,” Beevers said. “There is less pressure because the tests don’t count against our graduation.”

Tips to help students do well on tests
• Make sure your child goes to bed early the night before.
• A nutritious breakfast always helps.
• Get clothes and books ready the night before.
• Talk to your child about doing his or her best.