High school level tests to undergo makeover

By Gabriel Monte: Freedom New Mexico

The New Mexico Public Education Department is remodeling standardized tests for high school students designed to map out their academic lives after graduation.

State education officials say the tests will follow the progress of individual students, instead of comparing the progress of an entire class.

Portales school officials say that the changes will likely result in a more rigorous testing of high school students that could also help meet federal No Child Left Behind achievment mandates.

The tests will track students’ high school, college and workplace readiness, according to Catherine Cross Maple, deputy secretary of Learning and Accountability for the Public Education Department.

The new tests represent a “shift in thinking” on teaching at the high school level to address the state’s dropout rates and increase the number of college-bound students, Cross Maple said. Aside from the standardized tests, this shift includes increased lab requirements and one more year of math for high school students.

The plan calls for the new tests to be phased in over three years starting with ninth-graders in the 2008-2009 school year.

Cross Maple said the revamped tests given to ninth-graders will map out their high school readiness and concentrate on math, reading and science. They will be tested on college readiness in their sophomore year and for workplace readiness as juniors, Cross Maple said.

The Adequate Yearly Progress tests currently administered to ninth- and 11th-graders will be eliminated. The AYP test is a component of the No Child Left Behind Act, which tests students’ reading and math skills.

“The 10th grade will be the standards based assessment, so it will be high stakes accountability assessment, on which the school is graded,” she said. “The test will be used two ways: One to meet high school requirement and also for the school’s ratings on their school accountability requirement.”

The 11th-grade assessment will come with career requirements that would show students what they need to do to prepare for college or for a technical school.

Portales School District Assistant Superintendent Priscilla Hernandez said she is not sure how the new tests would affect students or teachers at Portales High School yet.

“We always do our best to make sure that we follow procedure and the students do well in all the tests,” she said.

Portales Superintendent Randy Fowler says he believes the testing changes are primarily associated with a high school redesign program passed by the legislature last year.

“The high school redesign is going to increase the amount of math and science required of high school students,” Fowler said. “The testing should be more rigorous than it has been.”

Fowler and Hernandez say while they haven’t gotten a clear picture of exactly how the state will change things, they know the grades tested will likely change and the requirements for graduation will be beefed up. Fowler said enhanced requirements should help improve AYP scores and at the same time put students on a good path toward their post-graduation plans.

The redesign of the standardized tests will cost about $3 million, Cross Maple said. The department already has about $1.5 million and is hoping to get more funding from this year’s state legislative session, she said.

PNT managing editor Karl Terry contributed to this report.