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Editorial: NM can’t regress to pre-reform school days

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“Nobody pays any attention to AYP, anyway.”

– Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks, February 2012

AYP, aka Adequate Yearly Progress, was a key component of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, a landmark 2001 law that finally put the public schools system on record for how it educates all of its students: the poor, ethnic minorities, non-English speakers and disabled as well as the upper- and middle-class, the B students and high-achievers.

But NCLB and AYP also, unfortunately, gave schools one way to pass and 37 subgroup ways to fail as an increasing percentage of students were required not to simply improve but to be proficient in measured subjects, a fatal flaw that made it easily dismissed, as Brooks’ comment revealed last year.

Perhaps that’s why New Mexico’s two teachers’ unions would like to return to it.

On Friday, AFT New Mexico sent a demand letter to the state’s schools chief threatening to pull support for New Mexico’s NCLB waiver unless the state replaces its A-F grading system (put in by the Legislature), gives the community final approval of Common Core standards (adopted by 45 states, D.C., four territories and the Department of Defense), and delays teacher evaluations linked to student improvement for a year. Also Friday, the National Education Association opted to look into legal action against the teacher evaluation system put in place by the Public Education Department this year.

In a bizarre case of circular logic, acquiescing to those three demands to get the waiver renewed would actually violate the three pillars of state’s NCLB waiver and put it – and more importantly its students – back under the destined-to-fail rigors of AYP. A rough PED estimate projected all but three of New Mexico’s 839 schools would have failed to make AYP this year.

Yet under A-F, New Mexico’s students and schools have improved. This year 71 percent of schools maintained or improved their letter grade, fewer got D’s and F’s, and more earned A’s and B’s than in 2012. Not a single high school got an F – likely in great part because those letter grades are based on categories that saw positive movement, including improved test scores, a graduation rate that’s up to seven out of 10 students, Advanced Placement class enrollment that’s up five percent, and college preparation testing up by 11 percent for the pre-SAT and 20 percent for the pre-ACT. Education chief Hanna Skandera says “we’ve seen remarkable signs we are headed in the right direction.”

These data-driven reforms are why, when New Mexico became the 11th state to get an NCLB waiver, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said “today, New Mexico joins the ranks of states leading the charge on education reform by protecting children, raising standards and holding themselves accountable.”

Regressing to NCLB and abandoning A-F, Common Core and teacher evaluations tied to improvement is not and never will be about the students. Pushing to go back would only be a strategy if our goal is to kill the nascent but growing reform movement and fall from near the bottom to dead last in national education rankings.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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