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N.M. Gets Waiver For ‘No Child’

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Less than a week after New Mexico was passed over for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, the state has earned a break from the controversial law, joining 10 states that received waivers last week.

“Today, New Mexico joins the ranks of states leading the charge on education reform by protecting children, raising standards and holding themselves accountable,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a written statement.

The waiver releases New Mexico from the decade-old federal act, which requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. It means the state won’t have to calculate “Adequate Yearly Progress” this year, and instead will use only the new A-F school grading system to evaluate school performance.

The waiver also means New Mexico will have more flexibility on how it spends federal education dollars.

Albuquerque Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks, who called last week’s rejection an embarrassment, on Wednesday congratulated Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera “and her team for moving us forward in the waiver process.”

“The success of obtaining the waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act releases us from the possibility of having to use two academic accountability systems to measure the success of our schools,” he said. “That’s good for everyone and will make it easier to adopt and fully implement the new A-F grading system.”

The waiver is partly contingent on New Mexico revamping its teacher and principal evaluation system to reflect student achievement, rather than relying solely on teachers’ years of experience and levels of education. Multiple teacher evaluation bills have been considered by the Legislature during the current session, and the House has passed a version supported by Gov. Susana Martinez.

A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Skandera was vague Wednesday about what would happen to the waiver if the teacher evaluation bill isn’t passed before the session ends at noon today.

“We’ve been pretty laser-focused on the session,” she said, adding that she is “very optimistic.”

Eleven states applied for No Child Left Behind waivers, and all but New Mexico were granted the waivers last week. Duncan said at the time that New Mexico was “very, very close.”

Letters from Duncan’s department to Skandera’s showed initial concern about New Mexico’s A-F school grading system and whether it addressed “subgroups” of students like those learning English or ethnic minorities.

New Mexico was also late in turning in its plan for transitioning to Common Core standards – a set of standards that most states will adopt in the next few years.

Skandera said the plan was turned in on Jan. 31, as soon as a comprehensive document could be written with statewide buy-in. The deadline was in November.

“We turned it in then because that’s when our stakeholders finalized it,” Skandera said Wednesday.

An initial critique of New Mexico’s application was that it did not show enough buy-in from diverse community groups.

“As New Mexico implements these reforms, it is important that all stakeholders are at the table and their voices are heard,” Duncan said. “We encourage the governor and her team to work closely and in a bipartisan manner with the Legislature, and to fully include educators, community and tribal leaders and parents in the process of advancing these reforms.”

Martinez, a Republican, made education reform a major campaign issue. Her and Skandera’s agenda has been controversial.

“Thirty-nine other states don’t have a waiver,” Martinez said. “I’m really pleased that we’re going to be able to keep pushing forward for reform.”

Skandera said one reason for the delay in getting the waiver was because New Mexico is a relative newcomer to the world of education reform.

“This is really our first year of really pushing reforms, and so part of this is just getting up to speed,” Skandera said.

Under legislation approved by the House, half of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on “valid and reliable” measures of student academic growth and achievement, starting in the 2013-14 school year.

A 16-member council, including at least eight teachers, would make recommendations about how to determine the other 50 percent.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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