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PED aims to change alternative ways to graduate

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The state Public Education Department is aiming to narrow the ways students use alternative methods to graduate if they fail to get a high enough score on competency tests.

A newly proposed rule would create stricter routes statewide for students to earn competency credit that could be put toward a diploma.

“A diploma should mean the same thing across New Mexico,” PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski said.

If put into place, the rule would mandate that all public schools and charter schools follow three detailed competency options, including a new process for competency-based alternatives, which don’t rely on tests.

Currently, in order to graduate, students must show they are competent in writing, math, science, social studies and reading, which is often done through PARCC test scores. And state statute requires districts to offer students who do not pass the test the ability to graduate using alternate demonstrations of competency, such as successful completion of a workforce readiness test or school projects.

But PED says the statute doesn’t outline exact measures or processes. The new rule would aim to change that.

Under its proposal, the primary way for students to graduate still would be through their PARCC scores or science and social studies exams. But if students don’t meet competency standards through PARCC or other tests, the rule would put into place detailed, PED-verified alternatives, which stipulate the individual must go through a new two-step process in order to gain competency requirements.

• Step One: Students would pick one of seven options to begin gaining competency credits, including an internship or getting a minimum grade of 3.0 in an appropriate class.

• Step Two: Students would have to get an industry-recognized certificate or complete a program of study or dual credit coursework in addition. For writing, science and social studies, a student would have the option of submitting a portfolio that could be used toward fulfilling qualifications.

For example, a student could submit an acceptance letter from a four-year institution of higher education – though the rule would require acceptance from competitive and selective institutions only – in addition to an industry certificate to get math credit. Or a student could use an apprenticeship or an offer letter from the military in addition to a dual credit coursework to prove competency in reading.

Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski

Ruszkowski said the rule boils down to three parts: common and rigorous standards, greater emphasis on methods that have a track record of success, and a focus on career and technology education.

PED would have the final say on which alternative assessments, apprenticeships and other credentials would qualify toward graduation requirements, according to the rule.

The rule would go into effect July 24 but only would apply to incoming freshmen of the graduating class of 2022.

Ruszkowski said he was optimistic that the new requirements wouldn’t negatively affect graduation rates, saying, “In our experience students and teachers rise to the challenge.”

Districts’ stance

It’s a mixed bag in terms of how some districts have reacted to the proposed rule.

A spokesman for Las Cruces Public Schools, Damien Willis, said he doesn’t expect the rule to affect graduation rates for the district if it goes into effect. He said current policies in LCPS already mirror what PED would require.

“It is very similar to what we are currently doing. However, it will likely create additional paperwork for teachers, as they are expected to collect additional data,” he wrote in an email to the Journal.

Rio Rancho Public Schools spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said the rule would likely impact graduation rates, but she was unsure to what extent based on an initial review.

And Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia said she wasn’t ready to comment in depth as she is still reviewing the proposal.

“I will say, we all can agree it’s important to ensure all students graduate ready for college and career. However, we must guard against imposing any bureaucratic roadblocks that impose (on) students,” she said.

Aimee Milazzo, executive director of curriculum and instruction for Albuquerque Public Schools, and Madelyn Serna Marmol, APS assistant superintendent of equity, instruction and support, said their team is still reviewing the plan and were unable to talk on how the rule would affect students or graduation rates.

“We’d be projecting four years out into the future, so I think it is premature to anticipate how it will affect graduation rates,” Milazzo said.

She said APS agrees with the philosophy of ensuring that students are ready for career and college, but the district must review the details before officials can say whether they fully support the rule.

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