New Mexico Students Walk Out Over Standardized Testing

From north to south and points in between, New Mexico public school students are escalating a fight against standardized testing. The immediate focus of the protest is the awkwardly-named Partnership and Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (PARCC), an instrument which is being administered for the first time this year in the Land of Enchantment.

“Our goal for the protest is to stop standardized testing. We don’t want a walk in the (PARCC). We want an education,” Janelle Astorga-Ramos, Albuquerque High School senior and member of Bulldogs Against PARCC, told FNS.

A burgeoning student movement against the PARCC picked up steam last week when hundreds of high school students staged walkouts at Santa Fe High School and Capital High School in the state’s capital city. On Friday, February 27, another walkout hit Hot Springs High in Truth or Consequences, a small town off 1-25 located about halfway between Albuquerque and El Paso.

On Monday, March 2, walkouts, rallies, sit-ins and marches were reported in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Rio Rancho and other cities. Preliminary reports indicate about 2,000 students participated in the protest statewide, including a group of Lynn Middle School students in Las Cruces.

At one Las Cruces protest, a student held aloof a placard that declared, “We Are Not Test Scores.”

The protests would likely have been even larger, but reports of lockdowns and administrative threats of legal, athletic and academic consequences filtered throughout the day.

Among several large protests in Albuquerque, hundreds of students from Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, Rio Grande High School and South Valley Academy banded together for a march through the southwestern section of the city. Mayra Campos, student activist at South Valley Academy, told FNS that virtually the entire high school branch of the campus participated in the walkout.

Activists from four Albuquerque high schools held a March 1 meeting to prepare for actions the following day, the first day of the test in most schools.

“There was a lot of discussion how testing is a waste of time, and we don’t want it tied to teachers’ evaluations, Astorga-Ramos said in a phone interview.

Student activists in the Duke City have been assisted by the Southwest Organizing Project (SW0P), a longtime social and environmental justice organization based in Albuquerque. Praising the students’ efforts, Emma Sandoval, SWOP lead organizer, said her group was on board to encourage a “safe and well organized way” for students to take a stand.

“Our role is to really help organize and train them,” Sandoval added, “but the work really came from them.”
A replacement for the old Standards Based Assessment test, the PARCC is reportedly a harder exam to pass. Although some school leaders have urged the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) to slow down the implementation of the PARCC, Martinez administration education officials have forged ahead with the testing.

The English-only, online test has been scheduled to be administered in two parts: five hours in March and four hours in May.  According to PARCC’s website, test results won’t be available until the fall.
“PARCC is a better, more rigorous assessment that aligns directly to what our students are learning in school,” defended Ellen Hur, PED chief of staff.

Tim Hand, research and assessment director for the Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS), said the PARCC was selected because it conformed to New Mexico’s earlier adoption of the national Common Core State Standards. However, parents can “opt out” their children from taking the exam.

Opposition to the test comes not only from students, but parents, politicians and school leaders, including Santa Fe School Public Schools Board of Education President Steven Carrillo, who said he would “opt out” his son from the PARCC.

“We have no belief that PARCC is of any value,” Carrillo was quoted in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

According to the Albuquerque news media site KOB, nearly 2,000 students have been “opted out” from taking the PARCC in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces.  On Thursday, February 26, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Albuquerque) publicly challenged Governor Susana Martinez and Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera to pass the PARCC. Sanchez even offered to buy the two women breakfast burritos if they could ace the exam.

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell shot back, contending that Sanchez desired to maintain a status quo that has “failed our students for too long.”

But Albuquerque High’s Janelle Astorga-Ramos said she also thought it would be a good idea for Martinez to take the PARCC.  The senior further criticized the overall drift of public education in New Mexico. “Our education is not for profit, and we are tired of Gov. Martinez making this about money instead of education.”

The 18-year-old said she and a younger, dyslexic sister had been personally affected by standardized testing, with Astorga-Ramos’ mother even struggling with the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) bureaucracy to get extra time granted for the little girl to finish a test.

“I actually developed testing anxiety,” Astorga-Ramos added. “I get nervous and feel afraid I am going to fail it. That’s why I am so passionate about this protest.”

As part of her senior requirements, South Valley Academy’s Mayra Campos is doing a project on standardized testing.  Campos contended that a centralized, uniform system of testing tied to the Internet “disempowers local schools” while putting added pressures on small, financially-struggling schools like South Valley Academy, where there are not even enough computers to go around.

Money allocated for the costly tests, she insisted, would better be spent on “things like electronics” for her school.  “I think all the standardized testing should be taken away, and the teachers and the schools should do their own tests,” the high school senior proposed.

In mounting their protests, students have discussed and debated a variety of tactics ranging from walk-outs to petitions, as illustrated by a February 27 visit to the New Mexico State Capitol by students who delivered a petition against the PARCC, Astorga-Ramos said. Albuquerque High students first collectively discussed the PARCC before deciding on a walkout as the appropriate course of action, she added.

The student activist, who also works with a regional youth co-sponsored by SWOP, credited “pointers” from Texas students who had experience battling standardized testing in the Lone Star State for helping guide the New Mexico students.

Last week, the public school districts in both Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico’s two largest cities, published statements on the pending student walk-outs.  Noting that the tests were state-mandated, district heads urged the protesters to stay within institutional boundaries.

But both Astorga-Ramos and Sandoval said numerous letters and petitions to the APS Board of Education, Governor Martinez and the PED had fallen on deaf ears.

Although the full consequences for not talking or doing well on the PARCC are not entirely clear, the LCPS statement warned of possible graduation difficulties.  And according to LCPS Superintendant Stan Rounds, “failure to take the exam could impact on (students’) teachers’ evaluation,” as well as result in unexcused absences for students.

As things reportedly stand now, any New Mexico student who graduates during the 2016-2017 school year and beyond will have to complete the PARCC in order to receive a diploma.
More protests against the PARCC are brewing inside and outside of New Mexico schools for the days ahead.

“It went extremely well,” Astorga-Ramos judged the March 2 walk-out and sit-in at Albuquerque High.  “There were about 300 kids who walked out. I don’t have words to describe how empowering it felt,” she added. “We’ll keep fighting, no matter what.”

Additional sources: Las Cruces Sun-News, March 2, 2015. Article by Carlos Andres Lopez. KUNM, March 2, 2015. Krqe.com, March 2, 2015. Article by Chris McKee and Lysee Mitri. Kob.com, February 27, 2015; March 1 and 2, 2015;  Articles by Elizabeth Reed, Stephanie Claytor, Erica Zucco and Nikki Ibarra.  

KVIA.com, February 27, 2015 and March 2, 2015.  Articles by Josie Ortegon and editorial staff.  Santa Fe New Mexican, February 26, 2015 and March 2, 2015.  Articles by Robert Nott.  

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
For a free electronic subscription
email: fnsnews@nmsu.edu


Ripples Into Riptides



Emanuele Corso


John Adams once wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.” The unrelenting war on all forms and manifestations of a democratic social contract has led to bloody revolutions in every era, on every continent, and in virtually every culture. They all begin as slight disturbances, ripples on the surface of daily events, minor perturbations in the status quo that eventually take on a destructive life of their own,

not unlike the early gentle rumblings of an earthquake.


History clearly demonstrates political Democracy and Capitalism are not compatible ideologies; they are contentious and contradictory belief systems. Capitalism has, at bottom, become a quasi-religion as much as an economic system. Whereas Capitalism is amoral, imposing no limits on wealth extracted from the commons, Democracy, on the other hand, requires morality of community, civility and commitment to the common welfare, in a word, “sharing.” Sharing is anathema to Capitalism because there is no monetary profit and so is vilified by calling it “socialism” or worse. Controlling the vocabulary of debate is an old and useful tactic.


When any kind of amorality becomes pervasive, it desensitizes a society with a form of instrumentalism that justifies other amoral behaviors, creating a destructive pathology of civil decline. One need only recall the rise of Nazis and their vilification of Jews in pre-war Germany to understand how this dynamic works. For a recent example, how can a society justify killing someone for selling a loose cigarette while lionizing and bailing out with taxpayer money bankers who impoverished millions with their greed? In the U.S. today 49.7 million people qualify as poor. Eighty percent of the total population is in or near poverty.  In the face of this calamity politicians are proposing cuts in the Food Stamp programs, Social Security and health care. To what end are we again, it seems, being driven to the intersection of civilization vs. barbarism, a society committing suicide?


When a country acts immorally it diminishes its moral authority across the board. When a government offers “facts” contrary to the truth people are actually living, that government relinquishes its moral authority, authenticity and agency. The innocent adults and children killed by our drone strikes is a truth not ameliorated by the fact that there is always collateral damage during war. Collateral damage is a morally reprehensible argument against justice, a false use of truth invalidating claims of moral superiority over the enemy. Sadly, this behavior also speaks in the names of all citizens of the state causing the harm, and that includes you and me. The U.S. is a country in which thousands tout their Christianity and at the same time accept the criminalization of homelessness and feeding the hungry. Everything is related to everything else in one way or another.


In Cleveland, police summarily executed a 12-year-old boy at a playground. The boy was holding a bb gun. The same cops also threw the kid’s sister to the ground and handcuffed her for wanting to reach her dying brother. The boy died; the cops offered no first aid or care. In a news interview Police Union Chief Jeffrey Follmer placed absolutely no value on the 12-year-old’s life—none! His callous response? “How about this: Listen to police officers’ commands. Listen to what we tell you, and just stop … that eliminates a lot of problems.” He added, “I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, do it.” Listen up, Nation, Jeffrey Follmer has spoken a fact that is truth for many Americans: You live in a police state—do what you’re told—or else we’ll kill you, even for selling a lose cigarette. Is this American Exceptionalism? Is it justice? What kind of society have we become? What are we becoming?  We have the facts, but are we ready to face truth?


There are many more examples, but the foregoing seem to encapsulate a version of the social contract that is in opposition to what we believe to be normal—they portray a new normal in which truth has no moral function and human life has no value. The facts are, do what you’re told and everything will be all right, but the truth is something else. The truth is, we cannot be parties to torture abroad or unwarranted killing at home unless we accept our own complicity. It is valuable to note that the most outspoken critic of CIA torture was a Senator who himself, as a prisoner of war, was tortured by North Vietnam. Is that what it takes for people to understand that inhumanity—to be tortured themselves?


In all of this, it is essential to understand that facts and truth are not, in fact, the same thing. Facts are devoid of morality, they simply describe and nothing more. Truths, on the other hand, are an integral aspect of moral thought and behavior; truths give facts meaning. Facts exist in a moral void, and truths are a moral context. I have personally witnessed many instances of individuals spewing facts and not describing the truth, using facts to obscure the truth, to create cognitive dissonance. Lawyers and politicians do this routinely. It’s a shuck-and-jive, the end result being that an audience or a jury never understands the truth and so defaults to the better liar.


We are, in the 21stst century, engaged in a new round of Democracy vs. Capitalism. We must question. We must challenge—each of us. Time is running out on what’s left of this Democracy and what is left of a civil society because we are avoiding truth. We must tell truth to power and demand truth from them, lest the ripples turn into waves and the waves into riptides of destruction. Truth is a virtue, not an inconvenience. There can be no justice without it.



Seed Mail

Editor’s note: Due to last-minute nursery deliveries, the Adopt-a-Pot workday has been rescheduled to next Friday, Feb. 27.

Outside of the Community Enterprise Center on the sidewalk in Downtown Las Cruces
Friday, February 20

Last fall, La Semilla, the food policy council, and the City of Las Cruces partnered to launch Adopt-a-Pot. We’re putting urban agriculture into practice and planting edibles in the large planters along downtown Main Street. Now’s your chance to help create an edible landscape downtown!
The city will provide flowers for a pop of color and possibly some herbs. La Semilla will be providing seeds. If you are able, please bring vegetable and herb transplants. Any donations are greatly appreciated – you can hang around and plant your own planter or you can just drop off transplants. Your generosity is greatly appreciated!

Gardening Classes
Casa de Mi Alma Wellness Center at 920 N. Alameda Ave
Each Saturday at 3 p.m.

Jackye Meinecke (former owner of Enchanted Gardens) will be conducting gardening classes. The cost for each class is $7.50 cash per person. Reservations preferred; e-mail gardens@zianet.com to sign up.

Feb. 21 — Pruning — Learn the tools and techniques to prun everything in your garden from trees and shrubs to perennials and grasses.
Feb. 28 — Composting in the Desert — Creating compost in our dry environment has its own challenges. Learn the details of making and maintaining compost.
March 7 — Organic Vegetable Gardening — Grow your own produce with skills adapted to southwest gardening. From soils to plants, learn what you need for a successful vegetable garden

Mesquite Community Garden
at Spruce and San Pedro
March 15th
12:00 – 3:00
Please start some seeds in pots now to share at the 6th Annual PlantShare.
Seedlings – Cuttings – Xeriscape Plants – Seeds

Free community event. You are not required to bring anything, but if you have some extra seedlings, seeds, bulbs, or cuttings, please bring them to share. Bring a dish to share for a potluck lunch.

Downtown Farmer’s Market
April TBA



NMSU offers university-wide sustainability minor

Beyond the growing trend of “going green,” New Mexico State University has caught on to the universal movement transforming the job market for graduating students – a movement that benefits the student, the university and the planet.
Three men behind table
David Boje and his colleagues, Raymond Fierro and Sebastien Vendette prepare a table on sustainability opportunities at the annual Career Fair.

By implementing four sustainability minors housed in the colleges of Engineering; Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Business; and Arts and Sciences, management professor and faculty coordinator David Boje is “greening the curriculum.” The 18-credit, university-wide undergraduate minor offered in three tracks allows students to explore challenges in local and global sustainability.

A graduate minor in sustainability will serve as a master of business administration minor and will eventually be added to any NMSU graduate program degree. A proposed graduate certificate offers an integrated series of courses that comprise a multidisciplinary study of the environmental, social, cultural and economic dimensions of sustainability. This option will be available soon.

“Accounting, Engineering and Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management are really focused on getting their students placed at major institutions and corporations. Now, some of those students are back as recruiters and they’re actively looking for students from their own institution, major and minor,” Boje said.

Boje has created outreach by using the career fairs held on campus to introduce recruiters with job-seeking students. Sustainable careers are expanding in agriculture and forestry, energy, environmental protection, governmental and regulatory administration, green construction, manufacturing, recycling and waste reduction, research, design, transportation and consulting services.

“Once we get a really good scholarship built up, we recruit students. They then get a minor in sustainability and get a good job offer after college. Eventually, some of those students come back as recruiters. It’s our job as faculty to get our students prepared and to go out to the career fair and meet these employers and old alumni,” Boje said. “There’s nothing like walking up to a student you had in your class, years ago, and introducing them to a current student seeking a similar opportunity.”

The program was tailored after the Arts and Sciences’ existing sustainability minor in the Anthropology Department. Boje and his team headed to Engineering with a similar plan of action. The Business College followed suit, pulling out six courses and creating a minor at the MBA level. The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is now partnered with the Business College and is in the process of establishing its own minor, specific to its students’ needs. Boje’s goals are to expand the courses in the College of Health and Social Services and to help the College of Education identify courses to implement into their curriculum.

“We are greening NMSU, not just one college,” Boje said.

Besides outreach during career fairs, many events throughout the school year are provided to encourage students to learn about opportunities in sustainability.

“The university is committed to producing students who are environmentally aware and are taking action in their own lives,” Boje said. “We wouldn’t have a gold-star-rated university without OASIS, ESSO and other clubs that have pitched in and lobbied with administration. Our actions have to match that designation. Everybody caring in their own way, that produces a community of care.”

A scholarship fund in all six colleges currently exists, allowing donors to choose which areas they would like to see flourish. Scholarship accounts in financial aid and operations are also active. Scholarships are the root of this program. With scholarships come opportunities to expand on a necessity in all areas of student life and employment.

“There are a lot of environmentally minded students but not in the same way. Some are ecologically minded, economically minded. You have different orientations in every discipline, but together we can make a difference,” Boje said.

For information on donating to any of the eight scholarships, visit http://greening.nmsu.edu/donate/. Faculty and staff may use the payroll deduction method.


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