AP NEWS

New Mexico picks new testing system for young students

November 13, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has selected a new annual testing system to assess academic progress in grades three through eight at public schools across the state that takes up less time and can be tailored later to reflect New Mexico’s cultural roots, the Public Education Department announced Tuesday.

In a news release, Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said the state has signed a multiyear contract with international nonprofit Cognia to provide basic math and language skills assessments, starting in spring 2020.

The prior testing system known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers provoked a backlash among many parents and educators. First-year Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called it high-pressure and counterproductive as she scrapped it.

Lujan Grisham’s Democratic administration has launched a far-reaching overhaul of funding and oversight of public schools. The state ranks among the lowest nationally in terms of average student academic proficiency and high school graduation rates.

The new student assessment — labelled the New Mexico Measure of Student Success and Achievement — involves up to six hours of annual test-taking by students. That’s about three hours less than the prior system.

Stewart says the new assessments should be more meaningful and less burdensome on class instructional time. It goes beyond multiple-choice questions and answers to include at least one area that prompts students for written responses. It also can be expanded to include custom-designed sections in the future.

“Educators will be able to ensure that the assessment remains culturally relevant to the backgrounds and experiences of New Mexico’s students,” the Public Education Department said in a news release.

A court ruling last year found the state was failing to provide for an adequate education, especially when it came to children from poor, non-English speaking households. Plaintiffs to that lawsuit by parents and school districts say more needs to be done to make teaching relevant and engaging to Native American and other students from ethnic minorities.

New Mexico has the highest percentage of Latino residents of any state. About 1 in 10 residents is Native American.

The Public Education Department says its decision responds to suggestions and concerns gathered at a series of community conversations it held across the state in the spring of 2019.

The Public Education Department also announced that it will adopt a practice college entrance exam — the PSAT — as its academic assessment for 10th graders. That follows a decision to provide free SAT testing of all 11th-graders free of charge.

The contract with Cognia is worth about $40 million over a five-year period, said Gwen Perea Warniment, deputy secretary of public education. Five other applicants were considered.

Cognia was chosen in part because its tests offer information that can help schools better respond to students’ needs, she said.