A group made up mostly of Santa Fe educators grappled Wednesday night with the question of how to measure a student’s progress.
While they reached no concrete answers, most agreed that students likely undergo too much testing, and districts rely too heavily on test scores to determine the rate at which students are learning. Many said they believe teachers should be given more authority to evaluate student progress.
That was the rough consensus among about three dozen people who gathered on a rainy weeknight to take part in the second session of Our Schools: What Does It Take? — a series of forums hosted by the Interfaith Coalition for Public Education, the Santa Fe Community College’s Higher Education Center and The New Mexican.
“Yes, there’s too much testing,” said Dawn Wink, a panelist who serves as interim director of teacher education at the Santa Fe Community College. “Our kids are losing weeks sitting in front of computers. That’s time they aren’t learning.”
The event is the latest attempt to foster improvements in a school system that over the years has struggled to reduce truancy and dropout rates, raise test scores, and improve teacher pay and retention.
The forum, the second in a series of three, focused on the question, “What does it take to evaluate student progress?”
The evening was divided into two parts. A question-and-answer session with the panelists was followed by a workshop period in which audience members were asked to brainstorm specific plans for improving the schools.
Most panelists acknowledged that some amount of testing is necessary. Richard Bowman, the Santa Fe school district’s chief accountability and strategy officer, said a student’s performance on tests in one school year doesn’t mean much. Instead, he said, teachers should be able to access a lifetime of test data to better understand how a student is learning.
Tony Gerlicz, lead learner at the Mandela International Magnet School, said educators and administrators need to ask themselves whether they are testing on the right topics. Specifically, he said, children should be tested on how their knowledge applies to the real world.
Other panelists, including Bernice Garcia Baca, a counselor at the Aspen Community Magnet School, and Geetha Holdsworth, interim principal and teacher at the Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences, said more emphasis should be placed on the teacher’s ability to judge a student’s progress.
During the workshop portion of the evening, participants offered various thoughts on the testing dilemma. Santa Fe High Spanish teacher Randy Grillo encouraged individuals to attend school board meetings or contact their legislators. Many called for people to encourage voters to support politicians who value education above all else.
Testing on the federal, state and local level might be the most divisive issue in education today.
Some parents opted to pull their children from the state’s new PARCC tests in protest this year, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Dozens of students staged walkouts across the state over the test. One protester at Capital High School was arrested for knocking down a fence with his vehicle.
The state Public Education Department released the first round of PARCC test scores in mid-October, but only after weeks of telling educators, parents and students to prepare for far lower scores than those from previous standardized evaluations. And they were right.
About 1 in 4 of the state’s 11th-graders failed the reading and writing portion of the test. More than 3 out of 4 students failed math portions. Thousands of students are slated to retake the test in November, but the Public Education Department doesn’t have an exact figure of how many students will need to retake the test.
The new tests are part of what Gov. Susana Martinez said are necessary reforms for the state’s education system. ublic Education Secretary Hanna Skandera has repeatedly said the state should be proud that it has decided to hold young people to a higher standard.
At the next forum in the series, scheduled for Dec. 3 at the Higher Education Center, 1950 Siringo Road, panelists will be asked to address the question: “What does it take for our community to boost student graduation?”
While graduation rates across the nation are improving, New Mexico is among half a dozen states where the rate has declined in recent years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. New Mexico’s graduation rate in 2013-14 was the lowest, at 68.5 percent. Santa Fe Public Schools’ graduation rate was even lower than the state average, at 64.3.
Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CQuintanaSF.