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"Take It Back Day" Draws Hundreds To Las Cruces Protest

Courtesy: US Dept. of Education

  Las Cruces, N.M. — As part of American Education Week (November 18-22) Las Cruces and Gadsden educators, parents, and students gathered together at the Las Cruces Public Schools Professional Development Center in a show of support for local schools and local control of schools.  Hundreds of LCPS educators wore black to express outrage against Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera’s controversial education policies that dramatically increase high-stakes, standardized testing and a new teacher evaluation system largely based on standardized test scores.  

“We are not afraid of tests — we invented them. But the imposed teacher evaluation system is about using tests to punish educators, not help students,” said NEA-Las Cruces President Patrick Sanchez.   “In our school district, we are losing hours of teaching to administration of new tests and endless online recording and paperwork. We need to put the focus back on students and how we can instill a love of learning and help them meet their potential,” continued Sanchez.

“A culture of over-testing and high-stakes testing is killing effective teaching and learning.  Focusing on tests hasn’t increased test scores, but it is destroying educators’ morale and stressing our students,” said Irma Valdespino of AFT-New Mexico.  Jacqueline Sanchez, a junior at Mayfield High School, also spoke out against excessive testing and resultant tensions in the classroom, "I am more than a test score!  The pressure from testing and evaluations based on testing is extremely stressful for teachers and students; the anxiety is palpable in classrooms.”

Parents continue to be concerned about the increased emphasis on standardized tests and their ability to fairly assess students.  Elvira Hammond, a parent of three children, all of whom have been educated in Las Cruces Public School said, “I love this school system - my kids have received terrific educations. But how can I tell my son to try his hardest on these tests when he knows they have little to no relation to what he's learned in class?  How can I tell my son these tests are fair when there are no accommodations for kids with special needs or kids who don't speak English?  How can I tell my son these outrageously expensive tests make sense when his classes are overflowing with students, they don't have sufficient textbooks, and his teachers are increasingly stressed out?”  

Rapidly-changing graduation requirements from the PED regarding End of Course exams (EoCs) have school districts around the state scrambling to determine what seniors may be in danger of not receiving a diploma because of tests.  Some estimates are has high as 50% of NM public high school seniors may not graduate because of these new tests. Last week, superintendents testified in front of the Legislative Education Study Committee, complaining that the PED has treated graduation like a moving target, leaving students in their districts in danger of not graduating on time. 

Some local school districts, like those in Truth or Consequences and Santa Fe, have passed resolutions allowing for graduation in spite of standardized tests results.  NM State law provides for six different Alternative Demonstrations of Competency, though the PED has emphasized only the standardized tests for graduation.   On Thursday, the PED announced that it will allow districts to develop their own guidelines for this year’s seniors. It is unclear whether LCPS will be creating new guidelines for seniors in its district.

Speakers criticized the apparent shift by the PED to expensive corporate contracts when resources are so limited in NM.  “Corporate interests, led by Secretary Designate Skandera, with the full support of the Governor, are spreading the lie that New Mexico’s schools have failed.  The truth is that our New Mexico educators and our public school students are consistently out-performing expectations based on the fact that nationally our kids are dead last in economic opportunity.  It’s time for our leaders to address the real crisis--child poverty--and stop scapegoating public schools and public school teachers,” said Mary Parr Sanchez a middle school teacher and NEA NM Vice President.

Melissa Mullinax, a founding member of People Against the Standardization of Students, (PASS) a group of citizens, students, and educators concerned about over-testing, said, “There is nothing wrong with our children. There is nothing ‘not proficient’ about the thousands of wide-eyed, and often hungry, children and young adults that move through our school buildings every day. There is something seriously wrong with us for continuing to subject them to standardized testing that only reproduces the same social inequalities that bind our youth in the realms of ‘failure,’ ‘not proficient,’ and ‘dropout.’”

Information from:  People Against The Standardization of Students