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Reviewers: New Mexico education plan best in the nation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico has the best plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act among the 17 states that have submitted documents to the federal government so far, according to a new independent review.

Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success announced Tuesday that New Mexico was the only state to receive the highest marks in the majority of categories – five out of nine – that were reviewed, including standards and assessments, student success indicators and measures of academic progress.

“The New Mexico plan was well-written and fairly clear,” said Andy Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, during a media conference call Tuesday.

Jim Cowen, the collaborative’s executive director, lauded New Mexico for its “thoroughness and vision” in crafting goals that are ambitious and serve students well.

The two organizations brought together a group of more than 30 independent advocates, education experts and former state officials from across the ideological spectrum to review the first round of the 17 ESSA state plans submitted in April.

The group’s goal was to serve as an external check on the federal peer review process and to look at whether states are going beyond compliance with the law to establish a system that will accomplish their visions for K-12 education.

“Today, New Mexico’s educators, parents, students and community leaders have so much to be proud of,” Christopher Ruszkowski, acting secretary for the New Mexico Public Education Department, said in a statement. “Our students will be the ultimate beneficiaries if we deliver on what we’ve committed to in our plan.”

Anne Wicks, director of education reform at the George W. Bush Institute, praised the state for continuing to engage with teachers, parents and school districts about the plan.

PED officials traveled to six cities last year to collect public feedback on New Mexico’s education system. The department revisited those communities this spring to discuss ESSA and the draft plan.

“We’re proud New Mexico is being recognized as a national leader through a plan that puts our students first,” Gov. Susana Martinez said in a statement. “Traveling across the state, it’s clear so many New Mexicans are rejecting the status quo and providing their input into this plan every step of the way.”

Rio Rancho teacher Ashley Randall told the Journal she attended one of the public forums last year and thought PED listened to her input.

“I’m so thrilled to hear that we are at the top of a list that’s positive,” said Randall, a fourth-grade teacher at Colinas del Norte Elementary and member of the PED’s Teacher Advisory Committee.

But some district administrators and lawmakers have expressed reservations about the ESSA plan.

Albuquerque Public Schools has said the plan sets high expectations that could be difficult to achieve. For instance, PED aims to boost the graduation rate from 71 percent to 85 percent by 2022. At the same time, high school students will have to earn better scores on the PARCC test to meet graduation requirements.

Earlier this month, several APS board members said they felt the PED missed an opportunity to craft an ESSA plan that moves away from PARCC and “value-added” teacher evaluations and school grades, which weigh standardized test scores as a significant factor.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee, questioned whether Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success know enough about New Mexico to judge the ESSA plan’s impacts.

“It looks all the world like fake news to me – we get an outside organization telling us how we are doing in New Mexico without being here to see what’s really happening,” Stewart told the Journal. “There is widespread hatred and dislike of both the teacher evaluations and the school grades.”

ESSA, a federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind with bipartisan support in 2015, gives states more power to control their education systems, including areas like testing and teacher evaluations.

The 17 states that submitted plans in the spring have received feedback from the federal government and will continue refining.

The U.S. Department of Education asked New Mexico to provide more detail about dozens of technical aspects of the plan, such as the criteria for low-performing schools to show they no longer need additional support.

The states that have not yet submitted plans have until mid-September.

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