Area school districts adjust testing policies

Joshua Kellogg
From left, Delaney Howlett and her brother Tylan Lovato are watched by their sister Ashleigh Lovato on Friday as they are dropped off at Country Club Elementary School in Farmington.

FARMINGTON – Aztec and Farmington schools have changed their policies in accordance with federal and state law, which means students will not be able to opt-out or refuse state testing. Some parents are upset about the change.

The testing window for the second year of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, started Friday and runs through May 13 for New Mexico students in grades three through 11.

Charmaine Howlett was able to refuse the exam for her two children — enrolled in the Farmington Municipal School District — last school year by submitting a letter stating she didn’t want her children to take the exam. But that option is not available this year.

The Aztec Municipal School District was the only San Juan County school district last year to offer an opt-out form for parents. Farmington schools allowed parents to submit letters to help track attendance and provide a record of why the student had no test scores on file.

Howlett said her son Tylan Lovato, a fourth-grader at Country Club Elementary School, was getting physically ill thinking about the exam.

At top left, Charmaine Howlett talks to her children, sitting from left, Delaney Howlett, Tylan Lovato and, standing, Ashleigh Lovato on Friday at Country Club Elementary School in Farmington.

“You’re basically stressing out these kids for an unknown reason aside from collecting data,” Howlett said.

The exams also reflect negatively on teachers who have students who don’t take the PARCC seriously, Howlett said. New Mexico’s NMTEACH teacher evaluation system is partially based on PARCC exam scores.

“It’s not something the kids take serious because it’s not going to come back on them,” Howlett said. “It’s a reflection on the teachers and it’s not a true reflection.”

Aztec superintendent Kirk Carpenter and Farmington superintendent Gene Schmidt both said they are following laws administered by the U.S Department of Education and the New Mexico Public Education Department.

Schmidt said he is interested in engaging with parents in meaningful conversations about the value of the PARCC exam and how it assesses the growth in learning a student has achieved in a year.

At the same time, Schmidt said there has been a concerted effort from the national and state education departments to ensure all students participate in testing.

“While I respect the rights and opinions of parents, we get directives from federal on down to the state,” Schmidt said. “We ask parents to partner with us in this process to measure and assess students learning.”

If a school district has less than a 95 percent participation rate, a portion of the district’s Title 1 funding is at risk, according to Carpenter. The school grade assigned by the state education department to each school could also drop by a letter grade if a school does not meet the required participation rate.

“This is what we are required to do as a school district and this is what we are going to do,” Carpenter said. “Once it’s done, we’re back to learning.”

The state education department believes the laws are crystal clear and all students without a medical exemption must participate in the annual statewide testing, spokesman Robert McEntyre said in an email.

“This is nothing new. Students have taken assessments in our public schools for decades,” McEntyre said. “Parents deserve to know whether their child is struggling, and our schools use the information to give those students the help they need to get back on track in the classroom.”

Carpenter and Schmidt both said the information gathered from state testing is important for students and teachers to measure progress and adjust curriculum.

There has been some confusion in the messaging about being able to opt-out or refuse the PARCC exam, Schmidt said, as districts like Albuquerque Public Schools still offer opt-forms on the district website.

“That confusion is not helpful,” Schmidt said.

Farmington parent Christy Jaqua refused the PARCC exam last year for her daughter Lauren Jaqua, currently in sixth grade at Heights Middle School.

Jaqua said she feels the PARCC exam has been shoved onto students and she is starting to explore home-school options but she doesn’t want to exclude her daughter from sports.

“I can’t punish (my daughter) by taking her out of sports,” Jaqua said.

Delaney Howlett, left, follows her brother Tylan Lovato on Friday after being dropped off for school at Country Club Elementary School in Farmington.

Howlett believes her rights as a parent give her the prerogative to make educational decisions for her children and she will home-school her children next school year.

“I just want my children to like school. They don’t need to prepare for college in elementary school,” Howlett said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.