- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico students will spend less time taking standardized tests and will have two additional weeks of learning time under changes announced Tuesday by New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera.

The changes are in response to feedback received from parents, teachers and school administrators during a statewide listening tour.

Skandera said she approached education officials in several other states that administer the assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, to ensure the changes could be made without compromising the quality of the test.

“This is a big moment for us,” Skandera said during an interview. “These things aren’t required by anybody, but we knew we could do them after laying the groundwork. We made that commitment to deliver.”

The results of the annual assessments also are expected to be available much sooner starting this year. State officials say districts having access to the results six to eight weeks sooner will help them better prepare for the fall knowing where strides are being made and where more work is needed.

The assessments have been the focus of much criticism since being adopted in 2015. The first year sparked walk-outs at some schools and legal challenges followed with unions concerned about the degree to which the tests reflect on teacher evaluations.

While the changes were applauded by union officials, some still are concerned about the assessments being used to gauge the progress of New Mexico’s teachers and schools.

The assessment should focus on students and how the information gleaned from that assessment can help teachers improve outcomes, said Charles Bowyer, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association.

“The continued use of student test scores to label teachers through a misguided teacher evaluation system is a misuse of the assessment system, no matter how much we improve the impact on instructional time,” he said.

By shortening the testing period and moving it closer to the end of the school year, Skandera said that will free up 10 more days that teachers can spend with their students in the classroom before testing begins.

Under the changes, students also will see a 30 minute to 40 minute reduction in testing time. That’s on top of a 90-minute reduction adopted two years ago following the first wave of criticism that schools were spending too much time preparing for and administering the standardized tests.

Skandera said the state also has tried to simplify administration of the test over the years and boosted the number of children completing the assessments online to nearly 100 percent.

Education officials have made no predictions about the outcome of this year’s testing, but the secretary said Tuesday that New Mexico’s policy changes are starting to reflect in higher graduation rates, more students participating in advanced classes, thousands of additional students meeting grade-level expectations and a 30-percent increase in the number of teachers classified as highly effective and exemplary.

“We’re up in 19 out of the 21 areas that we measure. That’s unprecedented,” Skandera said. “I think we’re on the cusp. We just need to keep pushing together, not pulling apart.”

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