State alters standards for assessment tests

By Angela Peacock

New Mexico State Department of Education Assessment and Evaluation Unit has implemented new standards for non-English speaking students in an effort to meet the principals of President Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind law.
And in an effort to meet those standards, students are now required to take all standardized assessment tests in English after they’ve been enrolled in a U.S. public school for three consecutive years.
State officials tab this new plan as a necessity for student success.
“No Child Left Behind was designed by members of Congress so that every child can achieve in core academic courses,” said Phyllis Martinez, NMSDE Title 3 Coordinator.
The mandates, however, have local school officials questioning feasibility.
“It is extremely difficult to read and comprehend another language in only three years,” said Portales Municipal School Superintendent Jim Holloway.
Holloway said that understanding the spoken language isn’t the same as being able to decipher it on paper.
“I can read some Spanish words but my reading comprehension of the language isn’t anywhere close to my understanding of the spoken word.”
The NMSDE Web site — www.sde.state.nm.us — states that oral translation of the test will no longer be allowed with the exception of a Native language translation for test directions or clarification of the directions.
Assistant Superintendent for Accountability and Information Services Melville Morgan said in a NMSDE press release that state education officials are in the process of transition from a norm-referenced to a criterion-referenced assessment system.
“Our goal is to build a valid and reliable assessment system that measures student academic performance in relation to New Mexico’s content standards with benchmarks and provides data from which to make valid and reliable decisions for the state’s accountability program,” Morgan said.
Holloway said the planning process — ready to implement by 2004-05 school year — will be difficult. By then, the plan must ensure all state and federal mandates are met while continuing to administer teaching resources equally between all students.
“We have mandates from both the state and federal level that always require proper funding leaving school districts wondering how they’re going to meet all the mandates and still provide the services they have in the past,” Holloway said. “It’s a real problem.”
Portales Schools Bilingual Coordinator Rick Segovia described how new mandates for non-English speaking students will require some major changes to the current bilingual program. He said, however, that Portales schools are in the process of implementing a dual language program expected to be in effect for the 2004-05 school year.
“Research indicates that the dual language model closes the gap between second language learners,” Segovia said.