Standardize testing waiver approved for New Mexico schools | Coronavirus | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

If Santa Fe Public Schools is a microcosm of the rest of the state, the vast majority of public school students in New Mexico will not take part in the standardized assessment test this year.

The U.S. Department of Education on Friday granted the state Public Education Department an accountability waiver for the 2020-21 school year — meaning no student, school or district will be graded, rated or ranked based on this year’s test scores. It also waived the requirement to test at least 95 percent of all students.

Assistant U.S. Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum wrote in March state assessments are important in identifying student needs and targeting resources to address them, but indicated the department favored an opt-in option “to the greatest extent possible.” 

Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart said individual school districts will determine the extent of testing, noting the waiver allows schools “to get the student achievement data we need to guide accelerated learning programs without adding stressful consequences at the end of an already stressful school year.”

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García said only 127 district students in third through eighth grade and the 11th grade have agreed to take the test. She did not indicate a timetable for when the tests will be submitted, nor how the district will conduct them.

She said there is a possibility the district will use a central location but is exploring its options.

García said the small sample of participating students indicates the state and federal government will not get much in-depth information.

“There is just not enough data for the state to get that,” García said.

The coronavirus pandemic last spring led the federal government to waive tests across the country. This year, the U.S. Department of Education would not issue the same blanket waiver but encouraged states to request flexibility.

García said Santa Fe Public Schools conducted its own formative testing of students in the fall and at the midpoint of the school year, and will present the results to the school board in June. She said the data the district accumulated will help it find learning gaps and focus resources in those areas next year to help students recover.

García said preliminary data from formative testing last year revealed the formation of learning gaps as students transition to middle school and high school, especially in math.

“We will be analyzing that data and be able to make adjustments to the students in their extended learning programs, as they come back in the fall,” García said. “We also will be able to look at where there are specific gaps, like if there is a particular school to provide the support they need to keep their students on track.”

Another important resource Santa Fe and other school districts can rely upon is the Public Education Department’s newly developed family income index formula, which targets funding for specific schools that have a disproportionate number of students from low-income families. The Legislature allocated $15 million for the formula for the 2021-22 school year, and schools can use the funding, in part, for reading and math intervention programs.

García said schools that receive index funding can use it for tutoring and remediation. Information from the formative tests will help administrators identify needs. She also said money from the recent federal stimulus package will go toward similar programs.

“It helps address equity issues,” García said. “Kids and families that need that additional support, we can address that through the index. But all schools, districtwide, can take advantage of that analysis [from formative testing].”

Rosenblum wrote in a letter to Stewart on April 21 the Public Education Department should take steps to reduce the impact assessment testing could have this year, such as excluding its use from students’ final grades, grade promotion decisions, educator evaluations and local school ratings.

As part of the waiver, the state assured the Department of Education it will make publicly available chronic student absenteeism data, as well as data on student and/or teacher access to technology devices and high-speed internet.

Rosenblum also wrote any school identified for comprehensive, targeted or additional targeted support and improvement during the 2019-20 school year will maintain that identification status in the next school year. Those schools will continue to implement their support and improvement plans, and receive appropriate aid.

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