Let’s Talk About School, Bay-Bee

By Ruth Trujillo Photo by Jony Ariadi

You walk into your child’s school for a meeting and are immediately whisked away to a magical land of technical jargon and complicated plans. Gone are the days when schools were simple. With standardized-testing and state-based curriculum standards, teachers and schools are held to a whole new level of expectations. This means that the class and the people serving your child just got much more complicated. The following definitions may vary from school to school or grade level to grade level, but can help to serve as a guide for families and parents to navigate the confusing waters that is the public school system.

Parents – responsible for getting their beautiful babies to school on time, providing them with support at home with homework and assignments, and helping them with the routines and disciple necessary to function at school. Parents are such an important role in school by supporting and advocating for their kids.

Counselors/social workers – work with teachers and staff as well as kids to address behavior and emotional issues that are getting in the way of learning. The counselor/social worker works with kids individually, in groups, in classroom settings, and with the entire school. They also develop and maintain programs that help with issues that affect social, emotional, and academic growth. 

Diagnostician – tests and coordinates with kids and staff to determine if there is a learning-based disorder or emotional disorder that needs to be addressed in school. Teachers can take the plans that are developed and implement them into their curriculum.

SPED coordinator or interventionist – this person is responsible for working with children who have a learning disability or who have been tested as gifted. They work primarily in reading and math and work individually or in small groups to help challenge and support students in special education.

Teachers – not just glorified babysitters. The teacher is responsible for testing our kiddos, analyzing the results, and using those results to create developmentally appropriate curriculum, as well as developing a plan to increase those scores and help our kiddos learn. All this while making it fun and interesting and helping a bunch of little bodies control themselves!  Teachers also meet and coordinate with a bunch of other staff members and parents. Sounds exhausting!

Principles – not just disciplinarians. The principle is responsible for overseeing the performance of all staff and students, curriculum and programs, and test results and interventions. The principle has a lot of pressure to oversee not just a childs’ behavior, but the whole schools’ behavior, motivation, and performance. A principle also looks at how to allocate funds and what special programs and materials are needed. Geez, talk about a lot!

As if this isn’t enough, these staff members work together to develop:

BIP – Behavior intervention plans. A plan developed with the above staff to address a student’s behavior when regular discipline just isn’t enough. A BIP can determine the steps needed to prevent a child from having a blowup or their behavior escalating. 

IEP – Individualized education plans. This is a step-by step plan that helps teachers help your child learn best. These plans give children more time to do homework, identify specific ways of learning, or special accommodations for testing, to name a few. If a child has continuous low grades, a parent can request to have their child tested and have an IEP created for them if it is deemed that they have a learning disability. 

Standardized tests – All of these individual components work together to help individual students test on things not based on local or individual needs, but based on statewide and national standards. Wait, what?  We go through all this individual planning and work only to have our kids judged by standardized tests?  Yup. 

What are these tests and who create them?

Standardized tests are tests that have been chosen by the NM Public Education department as having content, that most agree, children should know at a certain age. PARCC and NMSBA are the main tests for elementary school. PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Yes…assessing for college and careers in elementary school. The idea of standardized testing has been controversial as it does not necessarily test the intelligence or ability of a child or the quality of teaching; but rather what the child can remember. Critics argue that it prevents true teaching and promotes teaching to the test. Critics also state that it is not culturally sensitive and does not take into account how well a child may test or other areas of intelligence. 

In some districts, teachers were evaluated and given pay raises based on how high their students test. Can you imagine that stress?  Being judged not by how well you teach, how much the students love learning, how much the students have grown intellectually, but how well they have tested. No wonder teachers in New Mexico had a 24% turnover last year. That’s 1 in every 4 teachers that left the profession last year alone. Each school in Las Cruces has been given a grade based on the performance on these tests, attendance, and other administrative requirements. To see these grades, visit http://aae.ped.state.nm.us.

So what does this mean for your child? 

Each year, your child will be tested for about a month straight with the PARCC and NMSBA to determine how much they have learned academically. Your child will need to receive a passing score on the PARCC in order to graduate from high school, regardless of grades or credits. By the time your child graduates, they would have taken about 30 standardized tests. In comparison, Finnish students only take 1 standardized test at the end of their schooling. Why bring this up?  Because Finland has arguably one of the best, if not the best, school system in the world as shown by the results of their one test compared to others. 

Meanwhile in New Mexico, elementary age students have to sit through weeks and weeks of tests to get graded on their ability, to grade their teacher, to grade their school, to grade their district, to get funds. Against all common sense, the higher the grade, the higher the allocation of funds. Meaning, the lower the school grade, the less funds go to where they are needed most. It boggles the mind.

Schools are complicated and although it may seem like parents are not able to partner with schools, they are the biggest supports and advocates for their children. Although a lot of decisions about how our schools are run and where the money goes are made by the New Mexico Department of Education, each parent has a voice and can support positive change. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves and our legislators the following questions: Does our education system need to be so complicated?  What are standardized testing really, truly accomplishing?  
Summer 2017

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