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Skandera faces teachers, students, parents in Moriarty

The Independent of Edgewood, New Mexico

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When 20-and 30-year veteran teachers act like unruly students, perhaps parents and students should take note.

When the school board president insists on rebuttal time for a presentation by the Public Education Department, and when one teacher who describes herself as "very conservative" is in total agreement with one who says she's a "bleeding heart liberal," perhaps something is afoot.

At a public meeting Tuesday night, the PED's secretary-designate, Hanna Skandera, held a forum to address teacher and parent concerns that new graduation requirements will hurt students. Arriving 20 minutes late, Skandera first gave a Powerpoint presentation, then took questions from the audience, presented by Torrance County Republican Party Chairman Rick Lopez.

The meeting was attended by about 200 people, including the Moriarty-Edgewood school board, the Vaughn School District superintendent and two members of its school board, and one of the Albuquerque Public Schools board members, Kathy Korte.

The rules for graduation are constantly changing and the students will pay the price. That's according to some teachers at Moriarty High School, who say new graduation requirements set by the PED mean even more testing for students, cutting further into instruction time.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Four teachers met with The Independent last week to outline their concerns. Two are nationally board certified, and one is a Ph.D. who also serves as president of N.M. Council of Teachers of English.

Between them they have a century of teaching experience.

"I would like to change the conversation," said Katherine McCarty, who teaches history at

Moriarty High School, and whose husband, Todd McCarty, is president of the school board. "What I'm worried about is my students."

Kafherine McCarty, who has spent 25 years as a teacher, 20 of them in Moriarty, was one of the teachers who helped create End of Course (EOC) exams, a new graduation requirement that will affect the class of 2014.

These exams are "poorly written," she said, and "were done in a shoddy manner." Specifically, she said the history test was written in a single day. "We had one day to create it, recheck it, and get a rubric designed for it," she said.

"It's not standard, it's not valid, and it's not reliable," said Lisa Harris, a 20-year veteran teacher. She asked Skandera why the PED has not provided "validity reports" that it requires of schools writing their own EOCs.

Some students expressed frustration as well. Alyshia Home, a senior, asked why, when seniors are already worried about testing, college, jobs, and getting on with their lives, "we go in blind"?

One complaint teachers have is that they don't see the EOC exams before students take them.

"You shouldn't be going in blind," Skandera said, adding that the tests conform to standards set by the state.

Corina Novo, another senior who transferred to Moriarty High School from California, said first she was told she had to take the EOC exams, took it and passed, then was told she didn't have to take the test. "The test scores the teachers," Novo said.

"I love your passion," Skandera said, adding that the PED has gotten "appeal after appeal" and has made adjustments because of that.

"I wish there wasn't such a big huge gap between the people who make policy and the people who do the work," Harris said, wondering why PED doesn't ask students for feedback on the EOCs.

A big issue for teachers is an Alternative Demonstration of Competency, or ADC.

While teachers said the ADC is written into the state law passed in 2008 which created the additional graduation requirement, was a portfolio, Skandera offered a list of about eight different tests, including the EOCs, which were labeled as the alternative assessments.

Katherine McCarty said after the Tuesday forum that Skandera mentioning a portfolio as an alternative assessment "is a step in the right direction."

Asked if she had statistics on how many students have dropped out due to the new graduation requirements, Skandera said she "heard a rumor" that some higher education institutions might be encouraging students to simply get a GED instead of a diploma.

When Skandera asserted that state-mandated testing takes up about 1.2 percent of total class time, she was cat called by teachers in the audience, who say the testing occupies far more time than the PED says. "Not true! Not true!" teachers in the audience called out. Todd McCarty then requested rebuttal time as president of the school board.

For some questions Skandera had no answer. "Why should I have to take an EOC on a class at a college level if I have no ambition to attend college?" was one.

Another question asked why EOCs are given in April if they are intended to be final exams. "The last few weeks of school are a great opportunity to push forward in learning," Skandera answered.

One question asked how not taking the EOC exams would affect a student's financial aid.

Skandera said a student would still be eligible for the Lottery Scholarship and other financial aid, but teachers said last week that opting out of EOCs means no financial aid would be available for that student.

"I'm glad we got a chance to have a little rebuttal," Todd McCarty said after Tuesday's forum. He said the district is "trying to play by these everchanging set of rules."

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Original Publication Date: November 6, 2013

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