Fort Sumner schools could face penalties

By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ Staff Writer

Fort Sumner school officials who failed to administer mandatory tests to students could have their educational licenses suspended or revoked, a news release from New Mexico’s Public Education Department said.

The state’s news release said Fort Sumner schools did not order New Mexico standards-based or criterion-referenced tests for their students in grades four and eight. Another school, Moreno Valley Charter School in Angel Fire, did order the tests but failed to administer them.

Fort Sumner Superintendent Lecil Richards said he believes one of the two required tests was in fact administered, but doesn’t yet know why the criterion-referenced test was not administered to students.
“I’m investigating that right now,” Richards said late Saturday night. “I’ve visited with my test coordinator. Until I complete the investigation and know more about what happened, I can’t say any more.”

Richards said he first learned about the problem in early June from the high school principal.

“This is my 12th year (as superintendent) but it may be my last one…,” Richards said. “Our kids are excellent, they are great kids, and I regret that they (state educators) feel this will impact their education. I do feel like it’s unfortunate that one test would determine what kind of kids we have at Fort Sumner or possibly affect the funding.”

Principals Scott McMath at the elementary school and Jerry Birdwell at the middle school both declined to comment and referred inquiries to Richards.

In the press release, state Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said the failure to administer tests is serious.

The schools “appeared to have disregarded various state and federal mandates for the test …,” Garcia said.

“This means that the affected children have been deprived of the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in reading and mathematics,” Garcia said. “The results would have been used to determine if they met adequate yearly progress under state and federal law. This is a serious disservice to these New Mexico school children and is aggravated by the fact that the testing failures were never reported to the (education) department.”

Garcia said district superintendents bear ultimate responsibility for failure to administer the tests and said the state requires annual attendance at training sessions designed to familiarize educators with the testing process.