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Testing of Exchange Students Backfires at Valley High

A group of Valley High foreign exchange students say they intentionally failed the state standards-based test because they did not think it was fair for them to have to take it.

Turns out, school officials should not have forced the test on them, and now the school may be penalized because the poor scores will affect the school's overall evaluation on the test.

"They wanted me to take it so they could raise the average," said Swedish student Daniel De Quarto, 17. "... I think it's really stupid.
My performance shouldn't reflect the school's (performance). I'm only here for 10 months."

De Quarto said he had originally considered taking the New Mexico Standards-Based Assessment when a teacher asked the foreign students to take it as a "personal favor." But it became an ethical question for him and his friends.

So, De Quarto called in sick during the two test days; and upon his return to school Friday, he and other foreign exchange students who had missed the exam were ushered out of class to take the make-up evaluation.

He said he and others intentionally failed the exam by filling in random answers.

"A lot of them just drew pictures," De Quarto said. "They didn't care."

A German classmate, he said, wrote her answers in German to protest taking the test, he said.

"It was like cheating," said French student Jean-Baptiste Breliére, 18, who has already graduated from high school in his home country and will attend the Sorbonne this year. He said he also intentionally failed the exam.

Approach may backfire
State officials said Valley High appears to have shot itself in the foot.

"It was a really bad idea," said Don Watson, the Public Education Department's assistant secretary for assessment and accountability.

The state's testing procedures manual says foreign exchange students are exempt from taking the test and the school needs to return the blank testing forms for those students, Watson said.

"Any school that is telling these (foreign) students they have to (take the test) is wrong," Watson said. "And it's probably not a good idea, as these students have shown."

Tests that have been filled out, he said, will be included in the school's evaluation.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, foreign exchange students are supposed to be told to take the test only if they want to, said district spokesman Rigo Chavez.

"It's based on New Mexico standards, and these students have not been instructed in New Mexico standards," Chavez said.

The exam is being given to students in grades 3-9 and 11, measuring state standards in math, reading, language arts and science. It is the first year 11th-graders have been tested.

Chavez said Valley officials thought the school would be penalized if it didn't test all 11th-graders— including foreign exchange students— who were enrolled on the 120th day. He said principal Anthony Griego told him the school did not get clarification until after the students had taken the make-up exam on Friday.

Under federal law, schools can be penalized if 95 percent of their students— or of any subgroup such as Hispanic, low-income or special-education students— do not take the test.

Valley was among many Albuquerque high schools that did not meet "adequate yearly progress" standards last year under the new guidelines imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Valley had met the required student participation rate, but did not meet the required test proficiency in math or reading for the subgroup of special-education students.
And if the school does not achieve adequate yearly progress this year, it will begin to face penalties from the state. Penalties may include replacement of the staff or even having state officials take over operations at the school.

Host parent unhappy
De Quarto's host parent, Phil Auerbach, said he went to Valley to ask administrators to look into whether or not foreign exchange students needed to take the exam.
"I was told, rather rudely by one female administrator, that it is a state requirement that all 11th graders take the exam, including foreign exchange students," he said. "Then, I got a call at home saying that if Daniel missed school the next day he would be required to take the make-up exam on Friday."
Auerbach said he was unhappy with the way Valley administrators handled his request for an answer as to whether or not his student was required to take the test.
"As administrators, I think when there is a parent at the school seeking clarification, they should make an effort to get the answer. I was dismissed rather quickly without so much as someone reading the test guidelines."
Foreign exchange students are allowed to attend Albuquerque schools in ninth, 10th or 11th grade, but typically attend 11th grade to take American history and literature classes.
Last year, some Albuquerque high school students intentionally failed the exam because they were incorrectly told it was a practice test and that the results didn't matter for grades or college entrance.
This year, state officials launched a campaign to convince students that the tests weighed heavily on their school's performance and would be part of their permanent transcripts.
The test itself drew criticism from the foreign students, who said they don't understand why American students need to take a test that doesn't relate to their own classes or advancement to the next grade.

"What is the purpose of this kind of test?" said Breliére.

In France, he said, students are evaluated when they enter a new school level— such as middle or high school— and at the end of high school to get into the university. Students can remain in high school until they pass their last exam.

"Schools are not penalized for the scores (of everyone)," Breliére said.

Auerbach said it boils down to one thing for the foreign students.

"They are here for a cultural and educational exchange," he said. "They should leave the school with a positive impression of our education system. Unfortunately at Valley, I think it's been a mixed experience for the exchange students."

— Andrea Schoellkopf
Albuquerque Journal


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