New exams cause concern for students

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New end-of-course exams and the teacher evaluations that hinge on them are "heading for a train wreck," according to Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member Kathy Kortz.

A letter she wrote to her constituents expressing concerns about them is circulating around the region like a prairie fire.

Los Lunas Schools parents and students were surprised by the new end-of-course exams some seniors are required to take this year, but the New Mexico Public Education Department has implemented the mandate that high school seniors must pass the Standards Based Assessment test or end-of-course exams to receive their diplomas.

Students are given their final SBA in their junior year. If they do not pass a portion of it after three tries, they now must take an alternative test, such as the end-of-course exam, to prove their competency in whichever subject area they failed.

Last November, Los Lunas students were notified about the end-of-course tests for those who don't pass the SBA.

"We talked with our students all last year about the (end-of-course tests)," said Ron Williams, assistant superintendent, at the Oct. 8 board of education meeting.

Last year, some juniors took the end-of-course exams as a test run. Students who didn't pass the SBA learned this fall they had to take end-of-course exams before they can graduate, Williams said.

"Because the district doesn't get SBA results until July, parents aren't notified until the new school year starts," Williams said.

The public education department started moving from the New Mexico High School Graduation Assessment to the SBA in 2008, but it wasn't complete until last year.

"When (students) took their SBAs as juniors in 2012, that was the first time it was required to pass for graduation," said Williams.

The number of students who didn't pass their SBAs was not provided to the News-Bulletin by press time.

The first end-of-course test was offered about five weeks into the school year, and the next testing window will be some time in December, Williams said. There will be another testing window in the spring.

Kortz, the APS District 2 representative, wrote a letter to her constituents concerning the end-of-course exams, teacher evaluations and the Common Core State Standards.

The letter has circulated around the state, said Los Lunas Superintendent Bernard Saiz.

"She was expressing that parents of (APS) are pretty upset about the new requirements," Saiz said.

In the letter, Kortz said the new tests are being developed for all subjects for students K-12, and that teacher evaluations hinge upon the results. But, she wrote, no one knows what the tests contain, not even the teachers whose students must take the tests.

At least one teacher from Los Lunas sat on the Public Education Department's panel of teachers who are helping develop the end-of-course exams, but the department is not disclosing to anyone what is on the test.

Kortz wrote that students are over-burdened by all the tests, and the teacher evaluation system is putting more stress on teachers.

Los Lunas school officials are not opposed to student assessments or teacher evaluations, but the problem they are having is getting clear information or direction from the state, Saiz said.

"When we ask (questions), we're not given straight answers," the superintendent said.

Questions posed by the News-Bulletin to PED went unanswered as of press time.

Members of the Los Lunas Board of Education will meet next week and discuss the new graduation requirements, end- of-course exams and the teacher evaluation process.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 22, in the Teacher Resource Center, 801 Coronado St., across from the Los Lunas Elementary School.


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