Commentary: SANTA FE—Mandatory retention based on standardized tests hurts our children and violates state law, said the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty at a hearing in Santa Fe today held by the New Mexico Public Education Department on its proposed one-sized-fits-all testing and retention policy.
“We all want our children to learn to read, but the PED’s rule does more harm than good. Holding kids back based on high stakes tests doesn’t improve literacy, but it does increase the likelihood that students will drop out of school.” said Lauren Winkler, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Instead of holding back five to eight-year-olds, the PED should be ensuring that all children have the opportunity to attend evidenced-based programs that actually help them learn, like PreK and extended learning time, and that all teachers are provided professional development in teaching reading.”
The New Mexico Legislature has given families and school districts the authority to decide what is best for each child based on a child’s individual needs. The PED’s rule, however, would require the state’s youngest students – kindergartners through third graders – to pass a PED-designated test in reading to continue to the next grade. Parents would have the right to refuse the first effort to retain a child, but retention would be mandatory if the child did not pass the test the following year.
“These tests are not culturally appropriate and do not accurately reflect the talents and strengths of our children,” said Marisol Archuleta from SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP). "As a parent of two young girls, and a master’s student in special education, I’m extremely concerned about the detrimental approach the PED is taking towards evaluating and retaining our children. Increased reliance on standardized testing to decide whether children pass or fail is stressful to students, demoralizing to teachers, and lines the pockets of the corporations developing these tests.”
Years of research shows that holding kids back does nothing to improve their reading skills; instead, it increases their likelihood of dropping out of school, which has negative lifelong consequences for both children and communities. New Mexico already has one of the worst dropout rates in the country. 30 percent of our students do not graduate from high school. Individuals who don’t complete high school earn less, experience more health problems, and are more likely to require government assistance.
Retention policies like the one proposed by the PED especially hurt children of color and low income children –who are already facing the greatest educational barriers and are most likely to be held back and not finish high school.
Data has shown that high-quality early childhood education, extended learning time, and professional development for teachers helps kids learn. In fact, a New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee study found that the achievement gap in reading between low-income and other students is closed when children participate in both PreK and K-3 Plus. However, the PED has made these programs available only to a small percentage of the children who need them.
The PED has consistently failed to provide New Mexico’s children with the education they need to learn and thrive. The Center is currently awaiting a decision on a lawsuit against the State of New Mexico for its failure to provide all public school students a sufficient education as mandated by the New Mexico Constitution.
“We won’t help kids learn to read by holding them back and subjecting them to the same school experience that didn’t work the first time around,” said Winkler. “Instead of punishing kids for the PED’s failures, we should be expanding the programs that we know help children learn and succeed.”
The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/letter-final-comments-to-ped-proposed-regs-2018-05-15/
PED’s proposed regulations can be found here: https://webnew.ped.state.nm.us/bureaus/policy-innovation-measurement/rule-notification/
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.