School board concerned over test scores

By Tony Parra

The results of reading and math proficiency tests from the New Mexico state Public Education Department, which were released on Friday and in Sunday’s News-Tribune, were still on the minds of school board members during a school board meeting on Monday night.
There were 158 Portales High School 11th graders tested and 39 percent were proficient in math and 41 percent in reading. School board members expressed their concern over the validity of the tests.
“We are not sharing the same performance results at this level,” Priscilla Mestas, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Instruction, said. “These students have been performing above the state level since they were in the sixth grade.”
It was the first year for the type of test for 11th graders. There was a substantial difference between races in New Mexico. There were 72 percent proficiency level for Caucasians in reading and 47 percent proficiency level for Hispanics. In the math testing, 63 percent of Caucasians were graded as proficient, but only 37 percent of Hispanics graded proficient.
“There has been a gap in the past (between Caucasians and Hispanics) but never that big,” Holloway said.
According to a press release from the state Public Education Department on Monday, there will be results on the same type of testing for eighth graders on Aug. 19. Holloway said it’s the second year for the testing for eighth graders.
“We are not trying to make excuses,” Holloway said. “I met with Secretary (Secretary of Education Veronica) Garcia and she knew the scores. One concern was that 11th grade students didn’t take the testing seriously. There was some speculation that they didn’t take it seriously because it wasn’t going to affect them. But it’s affecting the schools.”
Holloway said when if affects schools it will eventually affect students. He said another idea is to have anonymous surveys about who took the test seriously at Portales High School. The tests were taken in November.
“Right now it’s speculation,” Holloway said. “We’ll know more once we are able to get with principals and get information so we can analyze it.”
Some school officials had questions about the state testing because previous testing did not indicate low scoring.
School Board members also announced their support for a resolution to House Bill 212, which Holloway said has been in effect for a little over one-and-a-half years. House Bill 212 calls for superintendents in school districts to have complete control in the hiring and firing of personnel.
School board members voiced their support of change in the language which would allow school board members to vote on personnel matters or have a say in the hiring and firing of employees. According to Holloway, the New Mexico School Board of Directors wanted to take it out of the hands of superintendent and back into the hands of the school board.
“It’s recommended to put the wording back and make it a joint decision over personnel issues,” school board member Rod Savage said.
Holloway said he was elected as the president of the New Mexico Association of Superintendents in July, which he said puts him in an odd situation.
“I would like to say, I’m in a precarious situation,” Holloway said. “We (the NMAS) said we would not oppose it nor will we support it. If you want to send something in support of the resolution, you certainly can. It’s something you need to have on your radar screen.”
Holloway did say that he didn’t have a problem with the school board having voting power on personnel matters.
“It’s a lonely world when you are making personnel decisions,” Holloway said. “In the past it was a team effort. Even though I inform you of who’s hired and transferred it’s not the same.”