All eyes on education agency
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.