School testing has been highly politicized in New Mexico in recent years, with each new governor replacing the state student assessments implemented by their predecessor. As a result of this political tug-of-war over testing, New Mexico students have had to take three different varieties of year-end assessments in the last decade, and educators have had to adapt to a new testing regime every few years. The constantly changing baseline means that policymakers do not have good longitudinal data about how New Mexico students are performing over time.
A certain level of student testing is mandated by federal law. However, states including Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana have begun to move away from single, year-end, “summative” tests and replace them with interim assessments, a series of three shorter tests given to students at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year.
Interim assessments can give students, teachers, parents, and principals timely feedback about how students are doing as the school year progresses and provide a better window into student growth over the course of a year, which in turn also gives teachers and principals a better sense of how teachers are doing in terms of growing their students’ skills and knowledge during the year.
Interim assessments also reduce the stakes and stress of tests for students by spreading out testing into several shorter exam periods over the course of the year, rather than concentrating preparation and test-taking into a marathon session at the end of the year. They also have the potential to reduce testing time.
The legislature and governor should update New Mexico’s assessment law to replace the summative assessment with interim assessments, and require that teachers, parents, and students receive the results of those interim assessments in a timely manner so that they can act on them.
In addition, another reform that would help drain the politics out of student testing would be to make it more difficult to change the tests on a political whim. This could be accomplished by establishing a process in law that must be followed before a state assessment is replaced. The process should involve notice and a public hearing and comment period, as well as an evaluation by an independent third-party organization that examines how well the existing assessment is achieving goals such as fairness, accuracy, equity, and cultural responsiveness, as well as potential improvements and alternatives.
The legislature and governor should enact a law establishing a thorough, merit-based process that must be followed before state assessments are changed.