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You won’t believe what New Mexico teachers aren’t allowed to say to students

South Valley Academy students protest after leaving class on March 2 in Albuquerque, N.M. New assessment tests that have angered parents and teachers across the nation prompted the walkouts by hundreds of high school students in New Mexico who had been set to take the exams. (AP Photo/The Albuquerque Journal, Roberto E. Rosales)

Put this in the you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff category: The New Mexico Administrative Code prohibits teachers and other school staff from saying anything negative to students about standardized tests. Or, to be more precise, they are not allowed to say anything that might  “disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of the standardized tests.” (The word “disparage” is bold-faced on the code’s Web page, which you can see here.)

Veteran teacher Peter Greene wrote about this on his blog, Curmudgucation, calling the implications “chilling.”

What can happen to teachers and other staff who are found to be disparaging the tests, or who violate any of the other more common-place prohibitions in the code relating to test security (not releasing any part of the test, permitting the test to be unsecured in an unlocked room, etc.)? The code addresses this, too, with penalties for “testing irregularities” ranging from ordering the violator to stop, to having their professional license revoked.

Here are the relevant sections of the code:         STAFF RESPONSIBILITY:
A.        All school district staff, including administrators, teachers, volunteers and office personnel who come in contact with standardized tests, shall familiarize themselves with basic principles of standardized test security. Any specific questions should be directed, first to their school or district test coordinator, then to the assessment and evaluation unit of the PED.
B.        Test examiners shall:
(1)     administer the standardized test according to the directions and specifications in the standardized test examiner’s manual and during the designated test administration window;
(2)     return the standardized tests to the school or district test coordinator after testing each day during the test administration window for secure overnight storage;
(3)     use test monitors in the hall to gather additional materials or deal with medical situations; and
(4)     review the standardized test examiner’s manual so that administration procedures are understood.
C.        It shall be a prohibitive practice for anyone to:
(1)     photocopy or reproduce in any other fashion including paraphrasing, any portion of a standardized test including a student’s answer;
(2)     teach from, possess or in any way disseminate a photocopy or other reproduced or paraphrased standardized test or portion of a standardized test;
(3)     copy copyrighted test preparation materials for the purpose of distribution;
(4)     provide students with a review of specific standardized test questions or answers before, during or after a standardized test;
(5)     permit secure standardized test material to remain unattended in an unlocked room;
(6)     coach or otherwise inappropriately assist with the selection or writing of student answers;
(7)     take standardized test material off campus unless specifically authorized by the district test coordinator or the assessment and evaluation unit of the PED; and
(8)     disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of the standardized tests.
[ NMAC – N, 09-28-01; A, 11-13-09]         NON-DISCLOSURE OF STUDENT TEST MATERIALS: All standardized tests in the NMSAP are the sole PED-approved and mandated assessments for the state of New Mexico. Each, with the exception of off-the-shelf standardized assessments, was developed by the PED, or the test vendor under contract with the PED, to help identify academic progress made by public education students and evaluate the program effectiveness of New Mexico public schools. The PED has a proprietary interest in the assessments within the NMSAP. As such, the PED must safeguard not only its proprietary interest, but also the confidentiality of each standardized test.
A.        Any person suspected of engaging in a testing irregularity who requests a meeting, review, or hearing under state law or regulation shall have only limited access to test items within the NMSAP.
(1)     Given the proprietary nature of any assessment which is part of the NMSAP, under no circumstance shall a standardized test which is part of the NMSAP be released.
(2)     Upon request, a person suspected of engaging in a testing irregularity shall be given as much access to an NMSAP assessment as is reasonably necessary to prepare for a pending meeting or hearing.
(3)     The original or copy of any NMSAP assessment used as evidence at any meeting or hearing shall also be subject to confidentiality by all attendees and participants.
B.        Any person given permission to view an NMSAP assessment may only view the assessment during routine office hours of the PED under supervision of an PED employee and on the PED’s premises, unless permission is given to review the assessment under the direction of an appointee of the PED. No NMSAP may be written on, marked, electronically copied, hand-duplicated, or otherwise removed from the premises of the PED or a local education agency in possession of an NMSAP assessment.
C.        Any person permitted to review any standardized test which is part of the NMSAP or participating in a review associated with assessment development procedures shall sign a non-disclosure form offered by the PED agreeing not to reveal any confidential materials, specific standardized test items, or specific concepts or skills to be measured on the standardized test to include verbal or written restatements of standardized test items, minor changes in settings or numbers, and specific vocabulary from standardized test directions or standardized test items.
[ NMAC – N, 09-28-01; A, 11-13-09]         REPORTING TESTING IRREGULARITIES: The PED finds that measuring student achievement through the administration of standardized tests will have a positive, long reaching impact on students, school districts and school improvement. To ensure the integrity of these tests and their results, the principles of test security must be strictly followed. Accordingly, material violations of this rule or breaches of test security shall constitute good and just cause to suspend or revoke a person’s PED licensure. Additionally:
A.        School district personnel and volunteers shall promptly report suspected testing irregularities to the district test coordinator. Where the district test coordinator is suspected of having engaged in a testing irregularity, reporting shall be made within three (3) days of learning of the suspected irregularity by telephoning the assessment and evaluation unit of the PED.
B.        School districts shall report by telephone suspected testing irregularities to the assessment and evaluation unit of the PED within three (3) working days of being notified of a suspected testing irregularity.
C.        The district test coordinator shall submit a report to the assessment and evaluation unit of the PED that contains the allegation(s), his/her findings and corrective action taken, if any.
D.        School districts shall cooperate with the PED if the PED determines that further investigation or action is needed.
[ NMAC – N, 09-28-01; A, 11-13-09]         CORRECTIVE MEASURES: After investigating suspected testing irregularities and confiscating any standardized test material it deems necessary to conclude its investigation, the PED may take any combination of the following corrective measures:
A.        direct the district or a named individual to cease and desist engaging in a particular testing irregularity or the administration of further standardized tests during the current school year;
B.        confiscate any standardized test materials that jeopardizes the security of the standardized test;
C.        recommend any further action it deems reasonable and necessary to maintain test security;
D.        invalidate the standardized test results and inform the district that a specific standardized test or portion of a standardized test must be replaced with a re-administered similar or alternative form, or any affected student will not receive scores on portions or all of a standardized assessment;
E.         refer the matter for possible suspension or revocation of a person’s educator or administrator licensure or other PED licensure pursuant to procedures set forth in the PED’s suspension/revocation rule;
F.         refer the matter to the accreditation team for appropriate action;
G.        take any other action authorized by state or federal law or regulation;
H.        modify school and district accountability determinations.
[ NMAC – N, 09-28-01; A; 11-13-09; A; 03-15-12]