When are students held accountable?

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

While helping my daughter Laura study for finals, two news stories commanded our attention: The grade-changing controversy in Albuquerque and a story about 100 Amarillo students not graduating because they failed the TAKS test.

The TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) is similar to the New Mexico High School Competency exam. Students must pass all portions of these tests and complete all required credits to graduate.

Albuquerque schools are under fire because an administrator changed a student’s grade from an “F” to a “D,” against the objections of a teacher and principal, so the student could graduate. The case is especially controversial because the student’s father is a past Albuquerque school board vice president and his mother is a Bernalillo County commissioner.

An Albuquerque teachers union has filed a grievance, saying the action undermines teachers. So Albuquerque Schools Superintendent Beth Everitt, who at first defended the action, has ordered an independent investigation. She also announced a policy change in which she will be consulted before any grade changes.

The situation may have been different if the student’s grade was borderline. According to KRQE, however, the student had a 54 average in English, turned in work more than four weeks late and had 17 absences.

The superintendent’s initial defense was the school failed to properly notify the family that the student was failing. This may have been the case, but the responsibility falls on the parents, and most especially the student.

The parents also complained about not being notified about the student’s excessive absences. Might I remind you that this child lives under their roof. In Portales, I use the online PowerSchool program to keep track of my daughter’s absences, tardies and grades. With the Albuquerque student’s father being a former school board member, he should understand the importance of being proactive and not waiting for schools to contact him.

Now, the Amarillo story is not as cut and dried. More than 100 Amarillo students will not graduate for failing portions of the controversial TAKS tests. Even more astounding is that more than 40,000 Texas high school seniors won’t graduate for failing the TAKS, according to KFDA.

While I’m a strong advocate for students making the grade and pulling their weight, something is terribly wrong here. My daughter went to middle school in Abilene, Texas, and I had mixed feelings about TAKS as well as the TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills).

On one hand, the state had high expectations of students, which I felt would help them in college. On the other hand, many teachers complained about so much emphasis on the TAAS and about having to teach to the TAAS and TAKS. There was also the debate over how relevant standardized tests are when compared to what a student learns in class.

Regardless of which position you take, when 40,000 high school seniors fail, there’s a problem. The problem may start at home, but with this being a record high for Texas, schools must also look at what went wrong with TAKS.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: