Reflections on the Future of New Mexico’s State Assessment

As state testing season is upon us, I have found myself reflecting heavily upon the idea of assessment and the purpose they serve in the overall curriculum design I have for my classroom, and more importantly, in the instructional strategies I practice daily with my students. I’ve also started to think about how assessments serve students in the bigger picture at the district, state, and national level.

This time of year brings with it a certain amount of anxiety and discomfort for students, teachers, and parents alike about how well students will meet the expectations for performance. This is an understandable reaction to a concept that is so deeply scrutinized in the realms of education, politics, and the media.  But, when the statewide assessment is aligned to the state’s learning standards and provides student-performance data that can be used to better inform instructional practices and curriculum design within the classroom, teachers are better equipped to deliver tailored instruction, which leads to more student growth and mastery of the learning objectives. If the guidelines for assessments are clear and purposeful, the mystery and tension that so often surrounds state assessment practices is minimized and the focus shifts toward understanding and improving individual, school, and district growth to help raise the quality of education in our state.

New Mexico is currently in the process of deciding what our next state assessment will be, and what it will look like. One of the most critical decisions to make when designing a test is to ensure it is clearly aligned to the state’s standards. This step ensures the test is not only used for accountability purposes, but also to measure the learning of our students, which is reflected through individual student growth. When our teachers use these standards with fidelity and skill in their instructional design, the data collected from the assessment is a more accurate representation of student mastery of knowledge. Data from state tests can also help identify areas where additional support may be needed to deliver standard-aligned instruction to create better learning opportunities. Alignment between state standards and the state assessment is a crucial factor in creating an equitable and transparent platform for student performance. Without a connection between the two, the data is meaningless.

State testing may be a hotly debated topic among many stakeholders, but the main focus should always be about what is best for our students. Creating a culture of transparency around the state assessment, and more importantly, analysis of that assessment data, is critical to ensure success. Educators, students, parents, and the larger community need to be educated in the process. If collectively, we can work toward an assessment system that is intentional and aligned, then we are one step closer to achieving equity for all students. If our goal as a state is to prepare our students to leave high school with the skills they need for success, then we have an obligation and commitment to align our state test to the standards that guide instruction in the classroom so we can ensure that we are best preparing our students for success.

Dawn Bilbrey is a Middle School ELA and History teacher at Texico Middle School in Texico, NM