When It Comes To Assessments, New Mexico Has a Tough Road Ahead

Last week Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham took steps to fulfill her campaign promise to end the use of PARCC as New Mexico’s annual student assessment.

In response to this announcement, the Las Cruces Sun News editorial board expressed valid concerns “that the governor would make this change before determining what comes next. Or before determining who will implement what comes next as secretary of education.”

New Mexico has spent many years laying important groundwork for improving K-12 achievement, but this politically expedient decision to eliminate a critical assessment of student learning simply because the name is unpopular, without a replacement at the ready, has left teachers, parents, and students in limbo and has left a large, expensive crater in the state’s accountability system.

The state chose PARCC as its state-wide assessment to measure student progress because it was aligned to the state’s new, more rigorous standards. Nationwide, award-winning teachers in states like NM that adopted PARCC agreed that it was a better test than their previous state-wide bubble tests. It gave valuable information on students’ content knowledge and skills, and most importantly, it was aligned to the state’s standards and provided – for the first time in decades – an honest depiction of how New Mexico students were doing academically.

We also heartily agree with the editorial board’s position that they aren’t going to “assume that whatever comes next must be an improvement.” There are bad tests out there, tests that won’t accurately measure student learning and won’t help teachers improve their instruction. Political expedience shouldn’t trump the best interests of students across the state. New Mexico can  move forward in a manner that keeps student expectations consistent and allows the state to have trendline data.

Finding a new high-quality assessment is going to be expensive, painstaking work, as examples from the past have shown. As we noted in 2016: Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges that accompany the development and implementation of new assessments, states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process.

With this in mind, the editorial board at Las Cruces Sun News is right to urge the state to “to listen carefully to teachers, parents, administrators, students and other experts in developing the new assessment, and to remember that the goal is to make the process better, not easier.”

This assessment needs to be high-quality. It needs to be aligned to New Mexico’s academic standards. It needs to give teachers and parents accurate and helpful information about student achievement and progress over time.

Jim Cowen is Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success