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High school test results delayed

A testing company's error may lead to a delay in reporting New Mexico high school rankings, state education officials have announced.

That delay could prevent parents from transferring students out of troubled schools before classes start in mid-August.

State Education Secretary Veronica C. Garcia said she found out last week that testing company Pearson Educational Measure-ment failed "to apply certain scoring rules" to the 11th Grade New Mexico Standards-Based Assessment test.

Pearson Educational Measurement administered the 11th grade reading and math tests given to the state's high school juniors in March. The tests are required by the federal No Child Left Behind law and state mandates. Scores are used to help the state rate high schools.

Garcia said the company initially couldn't tell whether some students tried to answer questions. That's important, said Garcia, because test participation rates are central to No Child Left Behind.

The law requires that at least 95 percent of students enrolled take the annual test.

"Just being one student off could make or break a whole school, maybe a district," she said.

A statement from Pearson said the company discovered several issues with the testing data during a review last week.

"We alerted the (New Mexico) Public Education Department, and over the next two days we worked closely with the department and secretary to correct the problem," said the statement released Thursday. "By this morning, we had given the department" updated information.

Don Watson, a state assistant education secretary, said the delay will put the state at least three days behind schedule.

Officials had hoped to release all ratings on Aug. 1. Garcia said elementary and middle school ratings will be released by then.

No Child Left Behind allows parents to transfer students out of schools that repeatedly miss testing targets to higher performing schools.

Garcia said she has instructed state lawyers to see if New Mexico could withhold payment to the company or require it to absorb $137,000 in costs related to the error.

In a related story, Garcia warned that more schools this year won't meet basic No Child Left Behind requirements.

But she said that was something she expected because more students last school year were required to take the New Mexico Standards-Based Assessment test.

"I want to forewarn you that we're going to see a rise in schools not making" the requirements, Garcia told a group of school administrators.

Schools were required by state and federal law to give the reading and math tests to all students in grades 3-8, 9 and 11.

In 2003-2004, the tests were given only to students in grades 4, 8 and 11.

Test scores are used to determine a school's annual state ranking. Since more grades were tested last year, schools have a higher chance of not meeting basic requirements.

No Child Left Behind says if even one subgroup, such as Latino students, doesn't meet testing targets, the school as a whole doesn't meet requirements.

Garcia made her comments during a "community conversation" with school administrators. The conversations are part of Garcia's effort to "saturate the public" with data on the state's student achievement gap.

For example, 71 percent of New Mexico's Anglo students tested proficient in reading in 2003-2004 compared to 46 percent of Hispanics and 36 percent of American Indians.

— Russell Contreras
El Defensor Chieftain


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