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It was the test mark heard around the state. Tired of what she said is a state constantly prioritizing poorly-written tests over classroom learning, Los Alamos High School senior Emma Lathrop created and led a protest that not only seems to be catching on around the state, but throughout the country as well.
Her method was simple. Instead of using slogans and picket signs, Lathrop asked her fellow students to instead mark every answer “D” on the on this semester’s end-of-course exams.
The end-of-course exam is the tool the state uses to see if students are reaching certain academic benchmarks and goals. Lathrop and others have said the tests are useless as far as measuring real academic performance, and worse, full of inaccuracies and typographical errors.
The tests are part of a greater teacher evaluation system started this school year.
“I have numerous examples of questions that are wrong … misspellings on the standards … a mistake here or there is fine, but when you repeat a question twice or you have one question that has two answers that are exactly the same, it becomes a problem,” Lathrop said. “Students are learning that they shouldn’t expect more from that from the state. It’s very sad. They (the state) are going through this so fast, they can’t even do it right.”
Part of the problem is the new evaluation and testing system coincides with the implementation of the “Common Core” standard, a national initiative designed to make sure students are performing at the same level in mathematics and English. The test, even though Common Core was just introduced this school year, reflects those standards as well as the state’s new standards which were also introduced at the same time.
“The problem is, the teachers didn’t even get the (state) standards until two weeks before the final exam. It’s ridiculous, they are pulling this out way too fast,” she said.
She added that filling out every answer as “D” would send a message to New Mexico’s education department that it needs a better way of evaluating academic performance. The “D” is actually a clever play on the word “demand,” as in they “D” mand a better way for the state to do things. Since the protest, Lathrop’s Facebook page, “New Mexico Students “D”mand Better” has blown up, garnering close to 500 likes and numerous comments from around the state and the U.S. since it began.
“I saw this posted on the Badass Teachers Association fb wall and came right on over to visit! I live in TN and absolutely LOVE what you students are doing! Kudos! I am a parent, teacher, and public school advocate; I will be sharing!” said a woman named Nancy Reese in the comments section of the page.
The Facebook page also included instructions for students on how to “D” out, and also advised students to ask their teachers if the EOC exam would count toward their final grade. It also listed classes where the exams didn’t count in the final grade.
While Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt didn’t necessarily agree with the student protest, he welcomed Lathrop’s right to voice express their opinions.
“This appears to be her personal statement and that is her belief system than she’s welcome to that opinion,” he said. “It’s different from mine though, in that I believe the state offers the exam with good intent to make sure that students across New Mexico have an understanding of the benchmarks that are expected to be taught.”
School board member Kevin Honnell endorsed the page, saying “Count me in.”
Lathrop hopes to accomplish much through this protest. Besides a reexamination of the teacher evaluation system, she hopes the New Mexico Public Education Department takes a hard look at testing in general.
“Students are tired of being tested,” she said. “I alone, in my regular classes, have taken 23 tests since August, including finals. If the New Mexico Public Education Department keeps going with this every single course in every single school will have an end-of-course exam. That includes PE, art and music.”