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Rural educators wary of proposed graduation rules

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Educators in rural New Mexico expressed concern Tuesday about meeting the requirements in a proposal that would standardize the path to graduation for students who use alternative methods – besides test scores – to show they’re ready to leave high school.

The proposed rules would create more stringent requirements for students who fail to score high enough on tests.

Students, for example, could submit a portfolio that helps demonstrate their competence in writing.

Acceptance into a competitive university could also be part of the proof of a student’s competence.

But in a public hearing Tuesday, some educators said the proposed rules might be particularly tough for students in rural areas because there are fewer four-year colleges nearby.

Instead, many students are accepted into two-year colleges, where they start their work before transferring to a university, educators said. They raised other concerns, too, about complying with the rules.

“Equal access is a problem in rural New Mexico,” said Kristen Forrester, superintendent of Maxwell Municipal Schools in northeastern New Mexico.

But she said she liked the proposed rules in concept.

Under state law, school districts already must offer alternative ways for students to show they’re ready to graduate, even if they don’t score high enough on standardized tests. They can demonstrate their competence by, for instance, completing a school project.

The state Public Education Department is proposing rules that would outline more specific requirements for students using the alternative option to graduate, making it more standard across the state, rather than varying by district.

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

Acceptance at a four-year college – one without a universal acceptance policy – is just one of the options that would be offered as part of the show of competence under the proposed rules. Other options include completing an apprentice program or internship, earning a certain grade in a subject area or being offered a spot in the military.

Those are all possibilities under the first step toward showing competence.

There is also a second step, in which the student is required to complete one of several other options, such as earning an industry-recognized certificate or submitting a portfolio of schoolwork.

The goal is to make sure students are ready for either a career or college.

The Public Education Department accepted public comment on the proposal during a daylong hearing Tuesday in Santa Fe. A final decision on whether to move forward will come later.

If approved, the proposed rules would go into effect for students preparing to graduate in 2022.

The proposal didn’t draw much public comment as the hearing started. Just three people testified in the first two hours.

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