Rule not meant to limit speech

by Veronica C. Garcia, Ed.D., executive director, New Mexico Voices for Children and former Secretary of Education

The administrative rule that was the subject of last Sunday’s editorial was never intended to limit free speech outside of the classroom nor be used as a hammer to intimidate public employees. If that’s how it’s being used, it clearly needs to be revisited and clarified.

The rule includes several changes that had to be made in order to be in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The line about not disparaging tests had to do with not limiting student participation because that could jeopardize federal funding.

The rule deals primarily with issues of test security and testing irregularities, and was put in place to protect students.

Like them or not, standardized tests are required by federal and state law and do have a valid – albeit limited – place in school. The rule in question helped ensure that the laws were being followed.

Students have always had the option to opt out, but federal funding can be jeopardized when as few as 5 percent of students decline to take a test. The rule protects students primarily from the loss of hundreds of millions in federal funds, which would negatively impact students because it would lead to larger class sizes, program cuts, and the like.

Also, there is a high-stakes test that students must pass in order to graduate from high school, and we must ensure that no one’s graduation is jeopardized because the importance of the test was not made clear to the student.

That said, the stakes for standardized testing have become much higher than they used to be.

The major reason to administer tests is to determine whether or not students are meeting important educational benchmarks. Standardized tests are only one way to do this, and they are not necessarily the best way for all subjects or all children.

Research clearly shows that high-stakes decisions should never be made on the basis of one test score. While there is a place for standardized tests in our public schools, they have been misused in our country in a variety of ways to the detriment of students, teachers and the educational system as a whole.

Given the current testing environment, it’s no surprise that many teachers are pushing back. But it’s important to understand that most of them are doing so because they believe these tests are harmful to the students being subjected to them.

What’s more, their dissent is protected under the state’s code of ethics for education professionals, provided teachers “maintain our integrity when dissenting by basing our public criticism of education on valid assumptions as established by careful evaluation of facts.”

Bottom line, the rule was neither intended to limit a teacher’s ability to speak freely about testing outside of the classroom nor to be used as a way to intimidate teachers into submission.

Since it appears it is being used to do both, the rule should be revised so that the scope is limited to its original intent.

Copyright 2016, Albuquerque Journal (