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Education officials seek flexibility on student testing

February 26, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2019, file photo, New Mexico Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart speaks during an interview in his office in Santa Fe, N.M. State education officials will seek flexibility to federal student testing requirements after the federal Department of Education said it would not grant a blanket waiver to assessments as it did last year at the start of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2019, file photo, New Mexico Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart speaks during an interview in his office in Santa Fe, N.M. State education officials will seek flexibility to federal student testing requirements after the federal Department of Education said it would not grant a blanket waiver to assessments as it did last year at the start of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico education officials say they want flexibility in federal testing requirements for students who have been learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic as the U.S. government considers a partial waiver.

New Mexico is one of nine states that sought a testing waiver. The U.S. Department of Education said Monday that it would work with states to allow flexibility but stressed the importance of testing to identify and address student needs. It exempted states last spring as the virus took hold and schools turned to virtual teaching.

One area where the New Mexico Public Education Department will ask for a break is a requirement that 95% of students participate in the annual assessments.

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“We have limited numbers of students in a building at one time, and some districts remain completely remote through the rest of the semester; meeting that requirement is likely to be probably the biggest challenge of the normal testing requirements that are there,” Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said Tuesday.

Federal officials said they would consider allowing tests to be shorter, done remotely and carried out as late as the fall.

Education policy experts expressed concern last week when New Mexico requested a partial waiver. A spokeswoman for the state education department acknowledged that if it relied on voluntary reporting from school districts, testing results may not be representative.

Without a baseline for student achievement this spring, it would be difficult for parents and administrators to track efforts to make up learning losses in the fall, experts said.

Low-income and rural students have generally had the hardest time learning this year because of limited access to devices and the internet. Those students, school administrators fear, also would be the hardest to assess remotely, skewing results and underestimating learning challenges from the pandemic year.

Addressing a public legislative forum Tuesday, the education secretary said his team will try to get results that capture all student experiences, even if not every student is assessed.

“We have a proposal to create a representative sample so that we still get information; we still have state-level information to look at that gives us a good picture of where our kids are,” Stewart said.

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New Mexico school districts are currently working on plans for how to assess students. Albuquerque Public Schools have proposed no state testing for grades 3-8 and opt-in testing for older grades, spokeswoman Monica Armenta said Wednesday.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.

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This story was first published on February 24, 2021. It was updated on February 26, 2021, to correct by saying the New Mexico Public Education Department requested a partial waiver from the federal government that would require fewer students be tested, not a complete waiver. That waiver is still under consideration..