The New Mexico Public Education Department announced Tuesday a five-year contract with testing company Cognia to provide new spring reading and math assessments for students in grades 3-8 that will require fewer hours of test time and offer teachers an opportunity to add local flavor to a writing component.
The state agency also said all high school sophomores will take the PSAT, administered by the nonprofit College Board, as their standardized proficiency exam this spring.
“We plan to ask teacher leadership from across the state to develop the writing prompts for these assessments,” Public Education Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment said of the new exams for elementary and middle school students. “It was a very strong recommendation we heard while engaging stakeholders during this process: Come up with something that can be culturally relevant and adaptable to our state.”
Cognia, also a nonprofit organization, was formed by the merger of nonprofits Measured Progress and AdvancED in August. The most recent tax forms publicly available for Measured Progress show President Martin Borg received over $434,000 in compensation in 2017.
The Cognia tests will cost the state $38.92 per student, or roughly $6 million per year for the 153,000 third through eighth graders in New Mexico. Previously, the state had been paying $31.25 per student for exams administered through a coalition called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
The Public Education Department said the Cognia exams will take between five and a half and six hours to complete, compared to nine hours for the PARCC exams.
Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states are required to administer proficiency assessments in reading and math for all public school students in grades 3-11. The New Mexico Public Education Department announced in October it would use the College Board’s SAT college entrance exam as the standardized test for high school juniors. It also said it planned to eventually adopt the PSAT, or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test — as the official assessment for freshmen and sophomores.
Warniment said a testing contract for the PSAT for ninth graders has not been completed.
It’s not clear how much the state will pay to administer the PSAT to 10th graders. But the department has said the state will pay $1.2 million a year, or $52 per student, to the College Board to administer the SAT to every junior.
Currently, the state allows students to take their reading assessment in Spanish if they have been in the U.S. for fewer than five years. But the state’s Spanish-language test is not yet aligned with Common Core Standards — benchmarks of concepts and skills at the center of each grade level’s curriculum.
Warniment said part of the agreement with Cognia is to develop a reading assessment in Spanish that is aligned with Common Core. The Spanish-language test will be ready for third and fourth graders starting in spring 2021 before expanding to other grades in following years, she said.
“We want to judge if a student has the reading comprehension and other required skills, and not just if he or she speaks English,” Warniment said. “We can leverage the Spanish language as a way to better assess students.”
The announcement of the new spring proficiency tests — which the state will use to evaluate the progress and needs of students, schools and school districts — comes in the middle of the fall semester. But school officials indicated the timing won’t interrupt teaching plans.
Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said educators here will continue teaching Common Core Standards, regardless of the test at the end of the year.
“Our curriculum maps are all tied to those Common Core Standards,” she said. “If the test is aligned to those, then there’s no need to change what we’re doing.
“We don’t yet know the rigor of the test or the number of items in each section,” García added. “It’s something new, but there are a lot of details yet to be seen in terms of how this impacts our district.”