Graduation Rate Increase Update: A Not So Sleight Sleight of Hand

Since the start of her administration, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Hanna Skandera, her secretary designate for the Public Education Department, have demanded that students and teachers be held accountable by the results of standardized tests.

Mandatory third-grade retention and teacher evaluations rely heavily on standardized test scores.

Through a bit of sleight of hand Martinez has exempted her administration’s education agenda from being judged by the same standardized test scores.

ISPAC reported last Friday that the highly touted increase in graduation rates for the 2011-2012 school year over the prior school year is not an equivalent comparison. The 2012 graduating students, unlike those who graduated in 2011, did not have to demonstrate competency by passing assessment tests as part of their graduation requirement.

The 2012 graduating class was to be the first to have to take and pass the more rigorous Standard Based Assessment Exams (“SBA”). These tests were to be implemented because they are more difficult to pass than the exit exams given in 2011.

Requiring students to pass the more rigorous exam would logically mean a lower graduation rate. But, Martinez signed a bill exempting high school seniors in 2012 and 2013 from taking the tougher exam.

Thus, Martinez and Skandera not only avoided a probable drop in graduation rates, but arguably manipulated the process in order to show an increase in graduation rates. Thus they could claim their “reform” works.

The bill signed by Martinez only exempted the graduating seniors for 2012 and 2013 from having to take the SBA exam. But students graduating in 2014 shouldn’t worry too much either. They will have to take the PAARC Assessment Exams. Hanna Skandera sits on the board of directors of PAARC, travels on PAARC’s dime and got PAARC’s parent company a contract with the state.

Skandera is well positioned to have a say in the difficulty of that exam. No sense risking a drop in graduation rate when her boss is running for re-election and has her eye on national office.

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