Computer woes hinder school testing

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Problems with the school district’s Internet service and online student assessments prompted a lengthy discussion at the programmatic school board meeting held at Midway Elementary School on Monday night.

Elva K. Österreich/El Defensor Chieftain: Kindergartners at Midway Elementary School lead the Pledge of Allegiance for an awards assembly Nov. 7. According to principal Gilbert Peralta this was the first ever quarterly awards assembly at Midway.

San Antonio School lead teacher John Ray Dennis and several of his school’s teachers reported difficulties with the new online version of the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA II), an individualized reading test. The district added DRA II data to each primary (grades K-2) teacher’s evaluation plan, according to Superintendent Randall Earwood. New Mexico’s Public Education Department already mandates using student data from the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills assessments to evaluate each primary teacher’s performance. Fifty percent of New Mexico’s primary teachers’ evaluations depends on their students’ reading scores.

Due to of problems with the school’s internet service and the test’s software, teachers felt they could not finish DRA II testing by the Nov. 27 deadline the district had set. Teachers reported having to spend an hour and a half per child administering the test instead of the expected 20 minutes, creating problems finding staff to cover their classes.

Problems accessing the test website and uploading data lengthened the testing time frame. Parents and a special education teacher in attendance expressed concern that some teachers have not been administering the DIBELS as required by PED. Earwood said the district would look into the DIBELS issue. He suspended DRA II testing until after Nov. 13, when the district conducts a trial run of the online version of the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment. Selected classes from each school will take the trial test that morning. Earwood said he would meet with the district’s technology team the same day to determine what technology upgrades need to be made.

“We need to take a hard look at our technology,” Earwood said, noting that the increased reliance on online testing puts additional pressures on the district’s Internet system. “I am very aware of the (testing) issues.”

Associate superintendent Anton Salome expressed support for online testing, noting that the recent problems should not deter the district from moving forward with computer-based student data management.

“This is a progressive move to streamline and warehouse data,” he said. “This is a bump in the road.”

In other matters:

• The minutes for the Oct. 28 meeting were not available for approval.

• Board member Pauline Jaramillo noted that the agenda for the Nov. 11 meeting had not been posted as of Nov. 9 on the school district website, possibly violating the 72-hours’ advance notice required by state law. It was noted that the agenda had been published in the Nov. 7 edition of El Defensor-Chieftain, and Earwood said in the future the agendas would be posted online in a timely manner.

• Midway declamation contest winners Liliana Vega and William Hoopes recited their poems; principal Gilbert Peralta reported on Midway School’s Halloween costume day, students of the month, in-school tutoring, expanded Renaissance program and academic honors students. A videotaped lesson showed first-grade teacher Kaylee Goff using brain-based teaching strategies.

In other business, the board:

• Unanimously approved Budget Adjustment Requests for an additional $4,322 for athletics and $4,606 for student activities.

• Tabled action on signing the New Mexico School Board Association’s Resolution of General Concern that raises objections to PED’s handling of this year’s school reform initiatives. The board requested the superintendent to draft a separate letter to the New Mexico Public Education Department expressing the board’s concerns about the fast pace of reform implementations and the role of local control over teacher evaluations and student testing.

• Tabled action on the request by Mid-West New Mexico Community Action Program to occupy a district-owned building on Spring St. rent free in exchange for paying for maintenance and minor repairs. District finance director Donald Monette said a citizen had expressed concern that the state’s anti-donation clause may be violated if the district waived rental payments. Board president Ann Shiells asked Monette to compile a summary of all the district’s rentals by the next board meeting.