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Group Has Waiver Woes

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The National Indian Education Association raised concerns Wednesday about the waivers states like New Mexico have received from the No Child Left Behind Act, and whether those waivers are good for indigenous groups.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the group specifically said New Mexico is a state where it has “concerns regarding the tribal consultation process.”

“In New Mexico, Native communities were not meaningfully engaged by state education officials in the shaping of the initial waiver application,” the group said in a news release accompanying the letter.

Hispanic and bilingual education groups have raised similar concerns locally.

Eleven states, including New Mexico, have waivers excusing them from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, in exchange for state policies that hold schools accountable and evaluate teachers based partly on student progress.

New Mexico Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera said she has met with pueblo governments. She said that, while she didn’t solicit comments on the waiver, per se, she did seek comment about the A-F school grading system and her proposed teacher evaluation system, which are both key components of the waiver.

She said both policies evolved over time, which shows community concerns were incorporated into policy.

The letter also raises concerns about the use of “super-subgroups,” which lump together groups of students, like ethnic groups and those learning English.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools were responsible for the scores of all subgroups. Under New Mexico’s new school grading system, schools are evaluated based on the progress of the 25 percent of students with the lowest scores. The letter says lumping these students into one category may mask achievement gaps.

Skandera said the A-F system holds schools accountable for more students than No Child Left Behind did. Under the old system, subgroups with fewer than 10 students and students who switched schools mid-year weren’t counted. She said the new system reflects about 20,000 students who weren’t counted under NCLB. She also said schools will be expected to look at subgroup performance and improve it, although that is not reflected in school grades.

This “super-subgroup” concern was also raised at a Wednesday morning event, where national advocates from the Campaign for High School Equity, which includes the National Indian Education Association and other groups, convened a discussion on New Mexico’s waiver. Daria Hall, of the Washington-based nonprofit Education Trust, said lumping low-performing groups together is a “major concern” for her.

She pointed to a New Mexico school that received an “A,” but had gaps of about 20 percentage points between the reading proficiency of its Anglo students and its Hispanic and American Indian students.

“If I’m a parent, and I see that this is an ‘A’ school, I’m going to think this is a good place to be and try to get my child there,” she said. “Is it OK, though, that I have a 20 percentage point achievement gap?”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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