U.S. Education Department approves NM ESSA plan - Albuquerque Journal

U.S. Education Department approves NM ESSA plan

FILE – In this June 6 photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Wednesday the approval of New Mexico’s consolidated state plan – and those of Nevada and New Jersey – under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Throughout this approval process, it has been exciting to see how each state has chosen to serve its students through the flexibility afforded to them under ESSA,” DeVos said in a statement. “The efforts put into these plans by chief state school officers, governors and others is evident, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with each of them as we work to expand and improve educational opportunities for all students.”

In fact, New Mexico’s ESSA plan was rated as the best among the 17 states that had submitted documents to the federal government through late June, according to an independent review. Last week, Delaware’s plan was the first in the nation to win approval.

Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success said 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.

Christopher Ruszkowski, acting secretary for the New Mexico Public Education Department, told the Journal that the plan incorporated opinions from across the state.

PED officials traveled to six New Mexico 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.

“It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Ruszkowski said Wednesday. “One of our big goals was to be one of the first to submit and one of the first to be approved.”

Ruszkowski said the early approval will create “stability and continuity” during the upcoming school year, which begins Monday. He also touted the accolades from “independent review after independent review” across the political spectrum.

Gov. Susana Martinez called the U.S. Department of Education’s approval “welcome news for New Mexico’s students, teachers and schools.”

“Over the last few years, our students and schools have made a lot of progress,” she said in a statement. “Federal approval of this plan will help us continue this progress so that more New Mexico kids have a chance to succeed in life.”​

While Albuquerque Public Schools officials had said the plan sets high expectations that could be difficult to achieve, APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy expressed a willingness Wednesday to work with the plan.

“We look forward to learning more about the new plan and continuing to work with PED to improve outcomes for all children in New Mexico,” she said in a statement.

The U.S. Education Department said that allowing states more flexibility in how they deliver education to students is at the core of ESSA. Each state crafted a plan that it feels will best offer educational opportunities to meet the needs of the state and its students.

The department listed these unique elements from New Mexico’s plan:

• Provides clear measurements of interim progress and targets for all subgroups for English language arts and math through 2020, including targets for all subgroups for four-, five- and six-year adjusted cohort graduation rates through 2020.

• Utilizes an A-F “School Grades” accountability system, with grades tied to a school’s identification for comprehensive support and improvement.

• Implements the Principals Pursuing Excellence and Teachers Pursuing Excellence programs, which embed mentors for educators in struggling schools.

Still, some lawmakers have been critical of New Mexico’s ESSA plan.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee, said there is “widespread hatred and dislike of both the teacher evaluations and the school grades.”

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