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Three area teachers join state task force

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“It wasn’t an easy task,” says Hope Morales, director of TeachPlus New Mexico, about the task force’s first gathering in mid-April. “There were great questions, ideas and debate.” (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Group to help guide decisions leading to new student assessments

Three area educators have been chosen for a state task force to help develop ideas regarding new student assessments, which in the past also have been part of the criteria used in teacher and school evaluations.

“I chose to serve because I care about students,” said Stacey Eberhart, a chemistry and biology teacher with Roswell High School. “I know that there is much more to our students than what test scores show, and I felt that this would be an amazing opportunity to be better informed about the process regarding testing, as well as be part of the process moving forward.”

The other two Student Success Task Force members from Chaves County are Elisa Begueria, superintendent of Lake Arthur Municipal Schools, and Hope Morales, director of TeachPlus New Mexico.

The members were announced April 9 by New Mexico Secretary for Education Karen Trujillo. The task force was prompted by the first executive order issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after her inauguration.

That order ended standardized student testing using the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) tests. Lujan Grisham’s second executive order requires finding an alternative to using PARCC scores as part of annual teacher evaluations.

Many area students and educators have complained about PARCC, with some Roswell students holding protests when they were first introduced to New Mexico schools in 2015. Objections have included that the tests require long hours of testing and many instructional hours to prepare students. They also required computer skills for even young students, and often entailed complicated, multi-part questions that meant if students missed one part of the question, they would miss all the other parts as well. Supporters of the test said that PARCC was aligned with state curriculum and gave a good measure of student knowledge and was a good tool to increase learning gains.

Although Morales did not give a judgment about PARCC, she did see some good in the tests and some opportunities in finding new assessment tools.

“I think PARCC did a good job being correlated with the Common Core Standards, and over the past few years, we were able to start using the assessment as a tool to guide instruction,” said Morales. “And I think one of the benefits of this meeting is that we are looking at what is working and seeing how we can improve.”

She added that many task force members are interested in more short-term assessments to improve instruction, which she said was not a strength of PARCC.

After Lujan Grisham issued her orders, the New Mexico Public Education Department held 10 community meetings throughout the state in March to gather input and to solicit nominations for the task force. Nominations totaled 314. The majority were public school teachers, but others were parents, nonprofit leaders, school board members and university education program administrators.

From those names, the Public Education Department chose 40 people originally, including the three from Chaves County. But an additional six joined shortly before the task force convened for its first meetings April 16 and 17.

“The Leadership Team along with (Public Education Department) Assessment Bureau staff selected from the nomination list,” said Deputy Secretary of Education Gwen Warniment. “The intention was to select a wide variety of stakeholders, from role, region and perspective.”

Morales is a former elementary school teacher and administrator who now works as the state director of a national organization promoting educator involvement in policy and practice development. Eberhart is a secondary school science teacher whose subject did not use PARCC for assessment. Begueria is the top administrator of a small rural school district with about 120 students and a former Roswell Independent School District administrator.

Begueria said she values a chance to represent small school districts and small communities.

“Additionally, I thought that my understanding of instruction and assessment, and its rigorous and equitable implementation in our schools, could bring some value to the task force,” she said.

Morales added that many task force members wear a couple of hats.

“I also spoke as a parent,” she said. “I also want high standards of learning for my children and I also want accountability and I also want to support their learning. I was able to voice that, along with many others.”

Members will serve until June and their input will be used to help the state develop its request for proposals to find a company that can supply assessments and any supporting software or documents. Task force discussions also will contribute toward a two-phase Statewide Assessment Transition Report. The first phase will make recommendations regarding math and English Language Arts assessments for spring 2020. The second phase will recommend assessment methods for future academic years. The website, core-nmsu.org, will provide ongoing information about the process.

Warniment added that New Mexico public schools will use the Transition Assessment for Math and English Language Arts (TAMELA) until new assessment models are chosen.

A former teacher and Teach for America executive who now runs the New Mexico Education blog has written that he questions the Public Education Department’s decision to add four union members to the task force before the group’s first meeting, but Warniment defended that move, saying that unions represent 80 percent of the state’s teachers. She also said that the addition of two educators with the Bureau of Indian Education was warranted because tribal schools are impacted by state assessment choices.

The Chaves County educators said the first meeting had a range of views and that no single viewpoint dominated conversations.

“I think they did a good job of bringing a diverse group related to background and the diversity of the state,” said Morales. “It was a very informative and challenging conversation. … It wasn’t an easy task. There were great questions, ideas and debate from all that contributed.”

Eberhart said she has “positive thoughts and feelings” about what she called student-focused discussions and wants the ultimate outcome to be assessments that provide “meaningful, purposeful” data that can help students and educators improve and will ensure that students can succeed after school.

Begueria said she trusts that the state’s process will culminate in an assessment model that includes an appreciation of students’ varied abilities and backgrounds.

“I am confident that the assessment model that (New Mexico) will implement in the near future will not only meet the federal requirements established in ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), but also represent the cultural diversity and heritage of our students,” she said. “Furthermore, this assessment model will provide different opportunities to celebrate our students’ and teachers’ strengths and identify opportunities for improvement at different levels, without being punitive.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.