State changes graduation requirements, leaving districts hanging

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Belen Consolidated School administrators learned less than a week ago that beginning this school year, high school seniors have additional testing requirements to fulfill to graduate.

The district received notice of these changes five weeks after the start of the 2012-13 school year from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

Changes were discussed by the board of education and administrators during a workshop Tuesday.

These requirements left the district scrambling to align its policies and procedures to comply with the changes, notify students in danger of not graduating, prepare students for additional exams and inform parents of the situation.

But Belen Schools Superintendent Ron Marquez warned that parents would be upset of the last minute changes.

"(Parents are going to say) 'What are you doing making policies or adjusting a policy for graduation in 2013? You should've done that already.' Yeah, we should've, but we were just dealt this information now," Marquez said.

Royceann LaFayette, Belen High School senior counselor, said she informed students who didn't graduate with their 2012 class that they needed to retake the exam, two weeks before the exam, after telling them they didn't have to.

Originally, the class of 2012 took the Standard Based Assessment for "accountability purposes only," said Kathy Roselli, the district's research, technology and accountability director.

A one-year state waiver exempted them from taking it as a graduation exit exam.

But now, they must follow the graduation requirements for the class of 2013 to graduate, including retaking the SBA and passing with certain scores.

The testing requirements revolve around the New Mexico statute requiring seniors to demonstrate competency in five subject areas — reading, writing, math, science and social studies — to graduate.

Competency is shown through exams outlined by the testing requirements and based on the student's expected four-year graduation date.

Under the new regulations, students must achieve a composite score of at least 73 between their reading and math scores from the SBA, along with showing near proficiency levels in those areas, and at least a 38 in science.

Those in the class of 2013, who took the SBA their junior year, must also have successful completion of U.S. history to count for social studies and English III for writing.

"The class of 2013 really got a pass. They have to be proficient in SBA and just pass U.S. history and English III, which are required to graduate anyway," Roselli said.

Students who score below a 73 for reading and math have one chance to retake the SBA, but those who fail the SBA's reading and math retake or SBA's science portion move on to complete the Alternate Demonstration of Competency.

With the ADC, students can alternatively show competency by completing English III for reading and writing, U.S. history for social studies, algebra II for math and biology or chemistry for science.

Students in the classes of 2014 and 2015 will be able to complete the SBA one year earlier, their sophomore year, in reading and math. They are allowed to bank passing scores.

The following year, students must take the SBA for science, reading and math, even if they passed reading and math with satisfactory scores. These second scores will be used to measure the student's level of growth in the subject as part of the A-F school grading system.

On top of SBA reading, math and science scores, these students are required to take an end-of-course exam in U.S. history and English III.

These cumulative exams, testing student knowledge from the entire school year, will be a combination of New Mexico Common Core State Standards and New Mexico Content Standards with Benchmarks and Performance Standards.

The state's Public Education Department is in the process of developing these exams.

It's unknown when the exams will be available to schools, which concerns Belen High School teachers and Principal Chris Hotchkiss.

"Right now, I have teachers that think they are teaching exactly what they are supposed to be teaching, but we don't have the test to go, 'Did I review all of this throughout the school year?'" Hotchkiss said.

This may cause students to experience some lag time between when they learn the material and are tested on it.

School administrators are still deciding if the EOC exam will be the student's final exam, if they will count towards a student's final grade and for how much and if students must pass the course and the EOC or just one to receive credit for the course.

Similarly to the class of 2013, if a member of the 2014 or 2015 student fails to receive the SBA score needed, they can demonstrate competency through EOC exams in algebra II for math, in English III for reading and writing, in biology or chemistry for science and in U.S. history for social studies.

Alternatively, students can also show competency in each subject by receiving a passing score in either an Advanced Placement exam, ACT, SAT, PSAT, AccuPlacer or IB curriculum.

"Each of those tests has their own specific cut score that would identify college readiness and competency," Roselli said.

The class of 2016 will begin taking their EOC earlier than previous classes as sophomores.

Instead of the SBA, they will take the Partners to Assess Readiness for College and Career exam, part of Common Core, as juniors. Students who don't meet competency requirements will be allowed to do so through ADC.

These testing requirements push the district in a good direction by increasing the level of proficiency students are being tested with and leaving the district with, Roselli said.

Belen High School and Infinity High School parents and students are invited to attend an information session about testing requirement changes at 6 p.m.. Monday, Sept. 24, in the BHS auditorium.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.