New Mexico is in the midst of a high-stakes testing showdown and its not just playing out between politicians in the Roundhouse.
Students and parents in Santa Fe, Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Socorro, Las Cruces have all publicly shared their plans to opt out or walk out of new testing slated to start on Monday.
While some school districts are welcoming the parental protest, others (including some charter schools) appear to be misleading parents about their rights to bow out and refusing to give parents forms or options to do so in an apparent attempt to boost student participation (which helps prop up school grades).
First, a primer on PARCC.
Next week, New Mexico students begin taking new state-mandated tests that have put Governor Martinez and her education chief, Hanna Skandera, at odds with parents, students and educators across the state.
- What (and who) is behind these new PARCC tests?
- Is there a conflict of interest when Hanna Skandera sits on the board of the group pushing more tests on New Mexico children?
- New Mexico taxpayers are paying out of state corporations up to $240 million for new tests that don’t work.
So why are parents, students and educators so upset? First, there is way too much testing for very little point.
Test administration to disrupt weeks of teaching, despite PED claims it will not
While testing officials are towing the PED line that testing won’t be disruptive…
Tim Hand, director of assessment, analysis and research for the [Las Cruces Public Schools] district said that the five components of the test will be spread out across the two weeks, in a fashion that will be “minimally disruptive” to instruction.
…educators are telling parents and students to expect something different. A Carlsbad middle school principal shared this with a parent who shared it with State Sen. Howie Morales:
On Feb 24, 2015, “Mark McAlister” <Mark.McAlister@carlsbad.k12.nm.us> wrote:We will either be doing test prep or testing all day during the testing week. There will not be any new teaching or learning taking place during testing week.Mark
Opt out, Walk out
Parents have a legal right to opt their students out of testing says State Sen. Howie Morales (D-Silver City), himself an educator and member of the Senate Education Committee,:
The fact is, according to the U.S. 14th Amendment of the Constitution, parents do have a say, and their rights are protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education; it is their right to choose to have their children take these tests or not. Under the current testing schedule for the school year 2014-2015, our students will be taking the PARCC assessment in March. There is currently a national debate on whether the PARCC test is beneficial or necessary to our students and schools; many leaders in the education field feel that they are not.
But while school districts like Ruidoso are telling parents this…
“parents have always had and will continue to have the parental option to have their child(ren) “opt out” of testing.
If you chose to have your child “opt out,” you will not be discouraged in any way by this district, as is your parental right.”
…not every school is giving parents their legal options.
Belen Consolidated Schools wins the prize for just being the most wrong:
This Albuquerque charter school was at least good enough to tell parents why the tests really matter.
The North Valley Academy Charter School sent out this in a newsletter to parents we found online:
“Please be conscious of scheduling appointments, lunch dates, etc. as the testing attendance (sic) is part of our state school grade…”
We found this parent who took to Facebook asking for help:
And she’s not alone. Here’s one from Rio Rancho:
Many parents are taking to social media and to the nmoptout.org website to share frustrations and seek last-minute help.
We asked Sen. Morales if he had heard from other parents with similar problems. He shared some of the comments he received from parents (we agreed not to share their names or personal emails):
Date: Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 7:35 PM
Subject: PARCC testing questions
You asked me to send you an email with the questions:
Is there an option for opting out of the PARCC test?
I heard that we could from various sources but I also heard that we couldn’t. Thanks for answering that question for me.
Also one student from Farmington High School talked to our principal today and he said that there was no opting out of this test. He posted this to Facebook.
I will have my friends email you if there are any other questions. Thanks again
Another parent wrote this to Sen. Morales about her experience trying to opt her child out of testing. She ultimately met with the principal, who was not helpful:
I have met with her several times and have been told that it was illegal to opt out, I could call my child in “sick” (but reminded that all unexcused absents would be reported), that my child didn’t have to participate in tests but no alternatives would be provided (I offered to sit with my child at school so that she would have supervision) and today with the tests starting on Monday, I was told the only way I could insure my child not test was to call her in sick on Monday,Tuesday and Wednesday but the window for testing was the whole month of March so if she returned during the month she would have no choice but to “put her in front of a computer and have her test”.
Again, State Senator Howie Morales (D-Silver City):
If you choose to have your child opt out of testing, you should not let your school district discourage you from exercising your parental right. Parents may write a refusal letter to opt their children out of testing, and most school districts will have an “opt out” form on their web page that you can download. If you cannot find the form online, you can ask any principal for the form or visit http://www.nmoptout.org/ for more information…
High school students who opt out of PARCC, in some school districts, will not meet the assessment requirements to graduate with a diploma, but will instead receive a Certificate of Completion. This is an unfair and inequitable way of dealing with this issue. Fortunately, some school districts will allow an Alternative Demonstrations of Competency (ADC’s) for high school students to receive their diplomas. I encourage you to notify your school district about this option.
But many New Mexico students aren’t waiting on bureaucrats to sort out the opt-out rules.
Students walkout in protest, plan mass walkout on testing day
On the second day, at least that many more braved freezing cold and snow to march on the Roundhouse, then the Public Education Department in protest.
And these protests aren’t new. In 2013, students in Las Cruces protested the new tests that have not been shown to have any value to teachers or students:
Those protests keep growing bigger as students across New Mexico are also organizing walkouts on Monday when testing begins.
This Dona Ana County student summed it up for the Las Cruces Sun-News:
Alicia Troncoso, a freshman at Oñate High School who plans to participate in the walkout, said students at her school are looking forward for this opportunity for their voices to be heard.
“I believe that the PARCC tests are unfair because we have to take it to graduate, but it’s based on things we haven’t learned yet,” she said. “A lot of students at my school are really excited for the walkout. They’re really motivated. I hope that this helps make a statement, so that future students don’t have to go through what we’re going through.”
Troncoso said standardized testing has become a distraction for students.
“If it weren’t for all of the testing, we could be learning a lot of new material,” she said. “And all of the testing that we have to do really drives up students’ stress levels.”
Parents in Albuquerque say they are opting out their students to avoid putting their children through hours of unnecessary testing and Rio Rancho is asking parents to meet with school testing officials before opting children out.
The superintendent in tiny Socorro Schools says parents there are opting out as well.
You can learn more about opting out and the consequences at nmoptout.org
So what now?
Schools are giving parents misinformation. Tests don’t seem to work and no one who has actually been able to take the tests can explain how they actually demonstrate competency.
State Sen. Majority Leader Michael Sanchez got some attention today when he challenged Gov. Martinez and PED Sec. Skandera to take the PARCC tests. They said no.
Take the New Mexico PARCC practice tests for yourself and see if you think they measure student performance.