Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose election campaign stressed revamping New Mexico’s public education system, took the first step Thursday by signing executive orders to eliminate a controversial standardized test for students and reformat a not-so-popular teacher evaluation system.
The state Public Education Department will be required to do away with what is commonly known as the PARCC test, an acronym for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and must find new ways for assessing student achievement and evaluating teachers. New Mexico will “unequivocally” stop using PARCC by August, Lujan Grisham said.
The move will result in “far more teaching and far less testing” in New Mexico’s 840-plus public schools, the governor said.
Former Gov. Susana Martinez and her former public education secretary, Hanna Skandera, implemented both the PARCC exams and teacher evaluation system some years ago by executive rule. While Martinez and Skandera argued this provided transparent accountability for schools and teachers, critics have said the PARCC testing and teacher evaluation system unfairly judge students and teachers.
In effect, Lujan Grisham’s action wiped away a large part of Martinez’s education reform platform and emphasized the new governor’s commitment to her own overhaul of the state’s public education system, which generally ranks as one of the nation’s worst.
In addition, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales said that state lawmakers are crafting legislation to eliminate the state’s difficult-to-comprehend A-F method for grading schools. He said that is necessary because the Legislature, not just the governor, approved that plan years ago.
However, it’s unclear what will happen next in terms of replacing both the PARCC test and the teacher evaluation system.
The state still has to meet federal guidelines in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which require states to create a method to rate schools, students and educators.
Lujan Grisham said it’s possible public school students still might have to take some “hybrid” of PARCC and another assessment this spring, for example, while her educational team works out legal and financial details for meeting national standards to ensure continued federal support.
“We have to be careful about committing without looking at federal requirements,” she said, adding that she has charged Morales, a longtime state senator well-versed in public education matters, with overseeing the transition and finding out if the state needs either a waiver or a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to comply with federal mandates.
Lujan Grisham also said state leaders must work with educators to create a new assessment and rework the teacher evaluation system, which relies on student test scores to make up 35 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation.
She said she would like to see more reliance on classroom observations conducted by principals, school administrators and other teachers instead of relying so much on student test scores to judge teachers.
Students likely will still have to take some sort of standards-based tests, Lujan Grisham said, adding that she “wouldn’t believe we won’t use some testing criteria in teacher evaluations.”
What those new systems will look like remains cloudy. “We will build a new system,” she said. “We have yet to lay out the foundation.”
She and Morales both said they do not expect federal guidelines to block their efforts to eliminate PARCC, which tests students’ skills based on the widely adopted but still debated Common Core State Standards.
Lujan Grisham said she has no reason to doubt the claim Martinez made during her last week in office that, based on preliminary data, the state’s graduation rate reached an all-time high of 73 percent. Nonetheless, Lujan Grisham said she will have her team review that data, which is provided by school districts and overseen by the federal Department of Education.