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NCLB Outrages

Some 11th-Graders Turned Test Into a Game

Ohanian Comment: What if students bring down NCLB?

Students raced to see who could finish the test first, not who could get the most correct answers.

Christmas tree and heart designs were created using the bubble patterns on the test answer forms.

Early results of new "criterion-referenced" tests given to New Mexico's 11th-graders show that only half of them are proficient in math and reading, but some students say few of them took those tests seriously.

And, they say, some students actually played games with their answer sheets.

Former high school juniors interviewed this week say many students blew off the tests after being told that the scores wouldn't count toward graduation— unlike the required 10th-grade competency test.

"A lot of them were like, 'Whatever,' '' said Roxanna Carreras, now a senior at Valley High. "If it's not going to count, why bother?"

"I didn't care," said Robert Stanton, a senior at Sandia High. "They told us it wouldn't count on our record, and I was tired. It was a waste of time."

Don Watson, the state's assistant secretary for assessment and accountability, said he doubts most 11th-graders blew off the tests. But if it happened, Watson said, schools could experience a "negative impact" since results will be part of schools' "adequate yearly progress" report.

The report determines whether a school is placed on the "needs improvement" list, although Watson said it was unlikely the new tests alone will put schools on the list.

About 20,000 11th-graders in New Mexico public schools took the new reading and math tests. Called "criterion-referenced," the exams quiz students on standards set by the state. They were administered to students in grades four, eight and 11 last school year.

Final results are to be released in late August.

Cathy Taylor, an English teacher at Valley High, said 11th-graders probably "laughed their heads off" when they read about the test results. She said many juniors just "had fun" with the tests when told the scores wouldn't go on their records. She said students bubbled in pretty designs on test sheets.

"Christmas tree designs were popular," Taylor said. "So were battleships and hearts."

Caleb Rees, a senior at Cibola High School, said he raced with a friend on who could finish first. He lost.

But during the race, Rees managed to bubble in the word "cab" on his test sheet. "Most of my friends didn't take it seriously," said Rees. "It was just a nice day to get out of school early."

St. Pius senior Ryan Tomari said even the "really smart kids" blew off the tests at his school. Tomari said he finished both tests in under 20 minutes.

Asked if they thought students would take the tests more seriously if results were placed on their records, Rees and Tomari both said "definitely."

"It's human nature that we didn't take the test seriously," said Damian Garde, a senior at Los Lunas High. "In high school, graduation is survival, and if it doesn't count toward graduation, why should we care? We had no incentive to take it seriously other than there was nothing else to do in the room."

Watson said if the tests aren't being taken seriously, school districts need to find ways to change that. For example, Watson said districts could post scores on students' transcripts.

Watson said the state will continue to administer the 10th-grade competency test and the separate 11th-grade tests. He said there are no plans to replace the competency test with the new 11th-grade tests.

Replacing the competency test with the new tests would take "five to seven years," Watson said.

The competency exam tests students on math, reading, writing and science, while the new exams test students only on math and reading, Watson said.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Gene Hickok said the No Child Left Behind Act requires that states test students on state standards at least once in high school. But he said it's up to each state on whether the test counts toward students' graduation.

"No Child Left Behind grades schools on if their students are proficient," Hickok said.

Hickok said Pennsylvania and other states besides New Mexico don't require students to pass the "criterion-reference" test to graduate.

Russell Contreras
Albuquerque Journal
Some 11th-Graders Turned Test Into a Game

— Russell Contreras
Albuquerque Journal


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