Letter to the Editor: Do The Research … Then Let Legislators Know What You Really Think

New Mexico Educator

A wise man once told me that people vote for politicians as they do in well-funded popularity contests. It is questionable that the current and impending actions of some policymakers represent the wider public’s interest, and it is difficult when some view election or re-election as unbridled support for their stance on important issues in our state.

There are many people in New Mexico who feel like they have no voice beyond the voting booth, myself included. I continue to have serious concerns about the current state of our education system and how it reflects our collective beliefs and values, and I know I am not alone.

My purpose in writing this letter is to respond to a recent article about House Bill 41, and to urge consistent interaction between the public and their elected officials even after this session’s dust has settled. That will take commitment, communication, information, and a willingness from all sides to take the time needed to sit down and consider options without expecting to find a “silver bullet” that will “fix” our education system forevermore. We are an ever-changing society. We need processes, beyond the ballots, in place to be able to adapt to changing times. Our founding fathers called this process “democracy”, and it encompasses more than a vote in November.

Today House Bill 41 passed through the House Education Committee and will now go on for a vote. Rep. Nora Espinoza claimed that an Albuquerque Journal poll showed that 74 percent of people who participated supported this bill and wanted to end “social promotion” and “the people of NM have spoken and are putting kids first”. This is yet another example of misleading rhetoric, just like “leaving no child behind” (and we all know how that’s going). HB 41 would provide the suggestion and policy support to hold kids back in kindergarten, first, and second grades if they are not proficient readers for their grade level, and it would put in place mandatory third grade retention for students who do not score proficient in reading according to the state standardized assessment (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers: PARCC).

Retention, in a recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) international report on education policy, was denounced as a positive policy reform option globally. Research shows that retaining students has a negative impact on their post-school outcomes, and increases their likelihood of dropping out later on. Though we won’t know the long-term impact on our students for at least another 9 years, we should seriously consider those probable repercussions now!

Graduation rates have been used as an indicator of the positive impact of education reforms in our state under the leadership of Gov. Martinez. The Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education in NM has analyzed the graduation data to help shed light on the misleading EdWeek report that the current administration and local politicians have used so widely. EdWeek did not use compatible graduation improvement rates to compare with earlier years (see www.cese.org for the report on the CESE Method) and we should stop using the misleading data to support claims that we are making gains due to Martinez’s reforms…and we therefore should not blindly continue on that path.

Parents, the passage of this HB 41 would take away your right to waive retention for your 3rd grade student if they do not pass the PARCC assessment in 3rd grade. You would, however, have the right to waive your child’s participation in remediation. What that means is, you can turn away intervention and help for your child to become proficient, but you have no choice about your child’s retention, which could have long-lasting effects on their confidence, motivation, and probability of completing high school. We absolutely must have Reading Improvement Plans and targeted intervention, but there is no need for mandatory retention in 3rd grade. The fine print of HB 41 is absolutely backwards.

Besides the evidence against retention, using PARCC assessment data to determine reading proficiency for third graders is ridiculous. There are many other options for determining reading proficiency that are diagnostically useful to teachers and give them information about how to intervene and support student growth immediately. We need to stop spending so much time and energy on PARCC so we can continue to invest in and expand our ability to assess our students in ways that will help us to help them expediently. Isn’t that the whole point? These are real children with real lives and futures, and they trust us to do the right thing to help them learn…not to put all our eggs in the PARCC basket and hope for the best.

I agree with Rep. Espinoza and want the people of NM to have their voices heard and to put NM kids first. I want those to be well-informed voices that have a chance to form educated opinions based on a more inclusive view of research and policy impact. I urge people to do their own research, talk to trusted education professionals and others who know more about this issue. Then email or call your state representatives and let them know what you really think.