All eyes on ed­u­ca­tion agency

Santa Fe New Mexican - - OPINIONS -

It may take a vil­lage to raise a child, but it ap­pears that it takes an en­tire state of ed­u­ca­tors and car­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers to keep an eye on the Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment dur­ing re­vi­sions of ex­ams, cur­ricu­lum and stan­dards in ba­sic aca­demic sub­jects. First, there was a big (and de­served) hul­la­baloo over pro­posed changes to sci­ence stan­dards that would have elim­i­nated such es­sen­tials as the age of Earth, the role of hu­mans in caus­ing climate change and de­creased men­tions of evo­lu­tion. The re­ac­tion was so strong that the de­part­ment walked back its pro­posed changes to the Next Gen­er­a­tion Sci­ence Stan­dards. In­stead, New Mex­ico is adopt­ing the stan­dards as pre­sented, just like so many other states have done.

But it ap­pears that the Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment must be watched at all times. Just as the sci­ence stan­dards dust-up be­gan to set­tle, a teacher no­ticed that end-of-course so­cial stud­ies tests be­ing de­vel­oped could be miss­ing es­sen­tials. Those pro­posed al­ter­ations to so­cial stud­ies ex­ams are up­set­ting ed­u­ca­tors and par­ents. No won­der, as it ap­pears that crit­i­cal end-of-course ex­ams for the topic will omit im­por­tant bits of his­tory. The ex­ams, ac­cord­ing to test blue­prints on the Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment’s web­site, leave out such top­ics as the drop­ping of the atomic bomb on Ja­pan and civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

If, as de­part­ment Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate Christo­pher Ruszkowski says — “what gets mea­sured gets done” — the changes to the end-of-course ex­am­i­na­tions are trou­bling. He main­tains that omit­ted exam ma­te­rial re­mains in the stan­dards, so whether stu­dents have to an­swer a ques­tion about Parks and the bus boy­cott does not mean it will not be taught.

How­ever, as any adult can re­mem­ber, the ques­tion too many stu­dents ask is, “Will it be on the test?” Ma­te­rial not for the exam, sadly, of­ten is for­got­ten as the stu­dent walks out the door.

Teachers un­der pres­sure to make sure stu­dents are pro­fi­cient — as mea­sured by the test, un­for­tu­nately — can­not be blamed if they fo­cus on ma­te­rial they know stu­dents must know for the test. Af­ter all, a teacher’s own grade — and even­tual eval­u­a­tion — de­pends in large part how stu­dents per­form on man­dated tests.

The con­tent of th­ese ex­ams will help de­ter­mine what is taught in the class­room. How­ever, be­cause th­ese are not out­right changes to stan­dards, the pub­lic has less op­por­tu­nity to weigh in, as hap­pened with the sci­ence de­bate. That does not mean dis­cus­sion is not tak­ing place.

At 11 a.m. Thurs­day, the Leg­isla­tive Ed­u­ca­tion Study Com­mit­tee will talk about pro­posed changes to so­cial stud­ies end-of-course ex­ams. Ev­i­dently, the slots for peo­ple to tes­tify have been taken, but crit­ics of the pro­posed changes think show­ing up in op­po­si­tion to th­ese new tests still could make a dif­fer­ence. If noth­ing else, the Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment bu­reau­crats will know that the eyes of New Mex­ico are on them. They must not get away with leav­ing out in­con­ve­nient truths.

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