Teaching Profession

New Mexico Teachers Sue Over Gag Rule on Testing

By Emmanuel Felton — April 04, 2016 2 min read
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With testing season upon us again, teachers across the country are speaking out against the importance placed on tests that they say don’t properly measure their students’ learning. In New Mexico, that outspokenness can get them in trouble, as it violates a state education department rule against “disparaging” standardized tests.

But now, contending that this proscription violates free speech protections, the New Mexico branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of five teachers and a parent.

The rule, written into a section on test security regulations, says that “school district staff, including administrators, teachers, volunteers and office personnel who come in contact with standardized tests” can’t “disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of the standardized tests.” Among the possible punishments for disobeying the regulation is the “suspension or revocation of a person’s educator or administrator licensure.”

Maria Sanchez, a staff attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, says that the restriction is an attempt to intimidate teachers in an effort to silence viewpoints that are at odds with the department’s.

“Beyond the illegality of this restriction, there is something unsettling and fundamentally un-American about the government compelling praise for its policies,” she said in announcing the suit. “Our society is in the midst of an important conversation about what role standardized testing should play in education, and the government shouldn’t be trying to forcibly elbow teachers’ voices out of the public square.”

New Mexico isn’t the only place where teachers are being told to keep their opinions on testing to themselves. New York City teachers are reportedly getting mixed signals on the issue from district and state officials. While the newly elected chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, Betty Rosa, has gone so far as to say that if she were a parent of school-aged children she would opt them out of the state tests, city officials have been sending a different message. Several principals told The New York Times that district officials have told them that school staff shouldn’t be encouraging parents to opt out.

The events in New York City, where only about two percent of kids opted out last year compared to 20 percent statewide, comes as New York’s major teachers union is again recommending that parents have their kids sit out the tests. It should be noted, however, that some contest the extent of the role that teachers and their unions have played in the opt-out movement. They say this is primarily a parent’s movement, not one driven by people concerned about what the tests will mean for their own job security.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.