New Mexico Students Walk Out over Standardized Testing

From north to south and points in between, New Mexico public school students are escalating a fight against standardized testing. The immediate focus of the protest is the awkwardly-named Partnership and Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (PARCC), an instrument which is being administered for the first time this year in the Land of Enchantment.

“Our goal for the protest is to stop standardized testing. We don’t want a walk in the (PARCC). We want an education,” Janelle Astorga-Ramos, Albuquerque High School senior and member of Bulldogs Against PARCC, told FNS.

A burgeoning student movement against the PARCC picked up steam last week when hundreds of high school students staged walkouts at Santa Fe High School and Capital High School in the state’s capital city. On Friday, February 27, another walkout hit Hot Springs High in Truth or Consequences, a small town off 1-25 located about halfway between Albuquerque and El Paso.

On Monday, March 2, walkouts, rallies, sit-ins and marches were reported in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Rio Rancho and other cities. Preliminary reports indicate about 2,000 students participated in the protest statewide, including a group of Lynn Middle School students in Las Cruces.

At one Las Cruces protest, a student held aloof a placard that declared, “We Are Not Test Scores.”

The protests would likely have been even larger, but reports of lockdowns and administrative threats of legal, athletic and academic consequences filtered throughout the day.

Among several large protests in Albuquerque, hundreds of students from Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, Rio Grande High School and South Valley Academy banded together for a march through the southwestern section of the city. Mayra Campos, student activist at South Valley Academy, told FNS that virtually the entire high school branch of the campus participated in the walkout.

Activists from four Albuquerque high schools held a March 1 meeting to prepare for actions the following day, the first day of the test in most schools.

“There was a lot of discussion how testing is a waste of time, and we don’t want it tied to teachers’ evaluations, Astorga-Ramos said in a phone interview.

Student activists in the Duke City have been assisted by the Southwest Organizing Project (SW0P), a longtime social and environmental justice organization based in Albuquerque. Praising the students’ efforts, Emma Sandoval, SWOP lead organizer, said her group was on board to encourage a “safe and well organized way” for students to take a stand.

“Our role is to really help organize and train them,” Sandoval added, “but the work really came from them.”

A replacement for the old Standards Based Assessment test, the PARCC is reportedly a harder exam to pass. Although some school leaders have urged the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) to slow down the implementation of the PARCC, Martinez administration education officials have forged ahead with the testing.

The English-only, online test has been scheduled to be administered in two parts: five hours in March and four hours in May.  According to PARCC’s website, test results won’t be available until the fall.
“PARCC is a better, more rigorous assessment that aligns directly to what our students are learning in school,” defended Ellen Hur, PED chief of staff.

Tim Hand, research and assessment director for the Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS), said the PARCC was selected because it conformed to New Mexico’s earlier adoption of the national Common Core State Standards. However, parents can “opt out” their children from taking the exam.

Opposition to the test comes not only from students, but parents, politicians and school leaders, including Santa Fe School Public Schools Board of Education President Steven Carrillo, who said he would “opt out” his son from the PARCC.

“We have no belief that PARCC is of any value,” Carrillo was quoted in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

According to the Albuquerque news media site KOB, nearly 2,000 students have been “opted out” from taking the PARCC in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces.  On Thursday, February 26, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Albuquerque) publicly challenged Governor Susana Martinez and Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera to pass the PARCC. Sanchez even offered to buy the two women breakfast burritos if they could ace the exam.

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell shot back, contending that Sanchez desired to maintain a status quo that has “failed our students for too long.”

But Albuquerque High’s Janelle Astorga-Ramos said she also thought it would be a good idea for Martinez to take the PARCC.  The senior further criticized the overall drift of public education in New Mexico. “Our education is not for profit, and we are tired of Gov. Martinez making this about money instead of education.”

The 18-year-old said she and a younger, dyslexic sister had been personally affected by standardized testing, with Astorga-Ramos’ mother even struggling with the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) bureaucracy to get extra time granted for the little girl to finish a test.

“I actually developed testing anxiety,” Astorga-Ramos added. “I get nervous and feel afraid I am going to fail it. That’s why I am so passionate about this protest.”

As part of her senior requirements, South Valley Academy’s Mayra Campos is doing a project on standardized testing.  Campos contended that a centralized, uniform system of testing tied to the Internet “disempowers local schools” while putting added pressures on small, financially-struggling schools like South Valley Academy, where there are not even enough computers to go around.

Money allocated for the costly tests, she insisted, would better be spent on “things like electronics” for her school.  “I think all the standardized testing should be taken away, and the teachers and the schools should do their own tests,” the high school senior proposed.

In mounting their protests, students have discussed and debated a variety of tactics ranging from walk-outs to petitions, as illustrated by a February 27 visit to the New Mexico State Capitol by students who delivered a petition against the PARCC, Astorga-Ramos said. Albuquerque High students first collectively discussed the PARCC before deciding on a walkout as the appropriate course of action, she added.

The student activist, who also works with a regional youth co-sponsored by SWOP, credited “pointers” from Texas students who had experience battling standardized testing in the Lone Star State for helping guide the New Mexico students.

Last week, the public school districts in both Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico’s two largest cities, published statements on the pending student walk-outs.  Noting that the tests were state-mandated, district heads urged the protesters to stay within institutional boundaries.

But both Astorga-Ramos and Sandoval said numerous letters and petitions to the APS Board of Education, Governor Martinez and the PED had fallen on deaf ears.

Although the full consequences for not talking or doing well on the PARCC are not entirely clear, the LCPS statement warned of possible graduation difficulties.  And according to LCPS Superintendant Stan Rounds, “failure to take the exam could impact on (students’) teachers’ evaluation,” as well as result in unexcused absences for students.

As things reportedly stand now, any New Mexico student who graduates during the 2016-2017 school year and beyond will have to complete the PARCC in order to receive a diploma.
More protests against the PARCC are brewing inside and outside of New Mexico schools for the days ahead.

“It went extremely well,” Astorga-Ramos judged the March 2 walk-out and sit-in at Albuquerque High.  “There were about 300 kids who walked out. I don’t have words to describe how empowering it felt,” she added. “We’ll keep fighting, no matter what.”

Additional sources: Las Cruces Sun-News, March 2, 2015. Article by Carlos Andres Lopez. KUNM, March 2, 2015., March 2, 2015. Article by Chris McKee and Lysee Mitri., February 27, 2015; March 1 and 2, 2015;  Articles by Elizabeth Reed, Stephanie Claytor, Erica Zucco and Nikki Ibarra., February 27, 2015 and March 2, 2015.  Articles by Josie Ortegon and editorial staff.  Santa Fe New Mexican, February 26, 2015 and March 2, 2015.  Articles by Robert Nott.

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