In education, all parties need to be accountable

By Kevin Wilson

It was probably troubling to Portales citizens to find out that all of the public schools in the Portales district failed to meet adequate yearly progress from the state’s perspective. After all, it was troubling to me, and I don’t have a kid in the school systems.
School officials have told us the evaluation process itself is flawed.
Several of Portales’ schools were not even involved in the testing, and eight schools received failing grades based on the efforts of three.
We can argue the merits of the state all day and accomplish nothing, though. The pressing question in my mind is: Do we have a lack of intelligence, or of accountability?
I’ve talked to some of these students for various reasons, and I don’t believe them to be ignorant. Maybe some think they know more than they really do, but most teenagers are guilty of that at some point.
Portales Schools Superintendent Jim Holloway has previously said that a few students might not have taken the state’s test seriously. Other conversations have informed me that students were told the school would not punish people for poor scores.
That’s an important message for our schools to deliver to the kids, to let them know that the tests are simply tools of evaluation. However, it’s also an understandable — if not condonable — conclusion that a few students took that message to mean, “Nobody will be affected if I blow this off.”
It’s troubling to me that we’re trying to stress accountability for teachers and administrators, but we require no accountability from the students these programs are meant to help.
These students and administrators do share the best teacher available: experience. Maybe by the next testing period, students will hear something to this effect:
“Before we begin this test, we want to stress two things to you.
“The first is this: The school will in no way hold these test scores against you should you not perform poorly for whatever reason.
“With that in mind, here’s the second thing: Everything in life has a catch, and this test is just as good a time as any for you to learn just that.
“You can take this test as seriously as you want or not, and the school will do nothing to you. For if you give a poor representation of yourself, the school won’t be the thing you’ll have to worry about.
“It comes down to whether or not you would rather for the next few hours take this test seriously, or for the next few months hear news reports and state government employees undermine the intelligence that you have, but didn’t think important enough to display on this test.
“It comes down to whether or not you’d like more homework — not because we equate homework as punishment, but because test scores will tell us that you’re simply not learning enough.
“It comes down to whether or not you want the best educational supplies, the purchase of which may depend on grants we’d receive for meeting acceptable standards of progress.
“It comes down to whether or not you want to run the risk of applying for college scholarships, only to have a selection committee choose a student whose school fared better in state testing.
“If you give this test your utmost concentration, and you still do poorly, that’s our fault as an educational institution and we’ll deserve whatever the state deems appropriate. If you don’t, we’ll have so many state mandates to re-teach you the math and reading you already know that we might not have time to teach you respect for yourself and your school, which is what you would really need to learn in the first place.”
I know this method isn’t guaranteed to work. Still, I hope we can look forward to a day when we have a government that better determines which schools are adequate, school systems that believe in the testing system and students who know that accountability exists even in a test that will never appear on a report card.

Kevin Wilson is the managing editor for the Portales News-Tribune. He can be reached at 356-4481, ext. 33 or by e-mail