Lessons Learned from Defending High Standards and Strong Accountability
November 1, 2019

One of our greatest strengths as a Network is working together to spread impact and know-how. Like many states, New Mexico has faced challenges to maintaining high standards for learning and strong accountability for results. Here, NewMexicoKidsCAN executive director Amanda Aragon shares lessons learned from advocates’ work to preserve high standards and quality measurements. NewMexicoKidsCAN’s commitment to this work was honored with the Eddies! award for Best Defense at the 2019 PIE Network Summit.

By Amanda Aragon, Executive Director of NewMexicoKidsCAN

I’ll be honest, the conversations that have permeated every education reform conference and gathering over the past couple of years have been discouraging as the leader of a young education advocacy non-profit working to defend a high-quality assessment. It seemed that at the same moment we were launching NewMexicoKidsCAN and beginning our fight to maintain high standards and accountability for New Mexico kids, many others were saying “eh, our reforms didn’t work. Time to move on.” 

It felt like being the kid at school who finally saved enough to buy the “cool shoes” right as they were going out of style. 

Despite the national existential crises, we journeyed on in our commitment to high-standards and accountability—a fight that became urgent when Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham signed an executive order on her second day in office mandating that New Mexico stop using PARCC. The last ten months have been trying, but I’ve learned a lot and I hope these lessons will be helpful to others who might find their states in a similar predicament. 

Lesson #1: Assessment Still Matters

You’re likely reading this a few days after NAEP results have been published, unleashing a wave of news stories, blogs, etc.—a clear indication that our community still values strong academic data that tells us how well students are progressing. The same is true at the local level, too. Though many may disagree about the name of the assessment, it turns out that when push comes to shove, there is actually broad agreement on key principles related to assessment, including: 

  1. Data needs to be comparable over time—changes in assessment shouldn’t make recent data obsolete 
  2. Assessment data needs to be actionable and easy to understand—for parents, families, and educators 
  3. Test administration needs to be seamless and as unobtrusive to learning time as possible

There is consensus from teachers, families, education advocates, and business and higher education leaders that an objective assessment of student learning is critical to provide information on how all students are progressing and ensure no students fall through the cracks. When assessment results point to major gaps in achievement, especially for certain student populations, it should be a call to take action and offer further support, not to retreat from high expectations or to hide the truth about student needs.

These are some of the key learnings highlighted in our Test of Resolve report, co-authored with Teach Plus New Mexico

Lesson #2: Time Can Be Your Friend

In the ten months that have passed since the Governor’s executive order, New Mexico has moved from the PARCC to the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment to the Transition Assessment for Mathematics and English Language Arts and now finally to the NM-MSSA. The confusion has been immense, and every change has caused educators to grow more weary, leaving many of them saying “what is the point of this? Let’s just keep what we have, it’s not worth this chaos.” So as chaos grew, appetite for dramatic change dissipated, and that worked to our advantage. 

Additionally, the longer the transition process drags on with a complex RFP, stakeholder feedback, and pushback, the more difficult it is to actually execute the transition. New Mexico still has not awarded the RFP for our 3-8th grade assessment, so every day our question of “can an overhaul of assessment be completed before the spring assessment window?” grows louder and louder. 

I won’t pretend that NewMexicoKidsCAN has solved all of the problems or that we’ll end up with a system that gives us everything we want, but at the end of the day, New Mexico will maintain high-quality assessment items for at least another year, if not the next five, and that is a win worth celebrating. 

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    Amanda Aragon

    Amanda Aragon is NewMexicoKidsCAN's Executive Director

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