Last month at the third annual New Mexico Teacher Summit, Secretary of Education-designate Christopher Ruszkowski announced that PARRC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) scores were back, the earliest we’ve ever had them returned.
PARCC is the assessment our state has adopted over the past five years to assess our students. It has been peer reviewed and given complete approval by the United States Department of Education. It’s based on Common Core State Standards, the set of math and language arts standards our state has also adopted.
I teach ninth-12th-grade English at Reserve High School, where I’ve embraced these college-and-career ready systems in my classroom; in my classroom, for me and my kids, it works.
When I began teaching at Reserve High School in Catron County, only about a third of our kids from seventh-11th grades – seniors don’t take the test – were reading and writing on grade level in language arts. That meant that only about a third of our students were reading and writing at the level they should be to be ready for college and career. This past year, the percentage of students who earned proficient or higher grew by nearly 20 percent. Our school earned an A in our federally approved school accountability system. Secretary-designate Ruszkowski visited our classrooms and presented our students with a congratulatory banner. It now hangs in the building, a display of the pride we have in our academic achievements. I knew our kids could do it again if we put in the work.
New Mexico has chosen clear and rigorous standards to cover, and PARCC assesses those standards. There are no surprises. Critics speak of the issues of teaching to the test, and while that may be true in some classrooms, it certainly has not been the case in our schools. The standards give us plenty of room to do otherwise: to answer big questions about who we are and how we interact with one another. Our kids read, research, analyze, connect and share. The standards are not my syllabi, but a guide that ensures my students leave my classroom with the same skills their peers are receiving in other zip codes. PARCC is the measuring stick that tells my students, their parents and my administration where our classroom communities stand in relation to those standards that are widely considered nationally and internationally competitive.
Last month, when I received an email from my district test coordinator about this year’s scores, I was anxious but excited, and for good reason. Not only did our students do well overall, but they have continued to grow. That’s what happens when you stick with something – growth occurs. This year, approximately 70 percent of our students in ninth-11th grades earned proficient marks, and many of them actually exceeded expectations. Nearly three out of four of our high school students are reading on grade level and, ultimately, more of the students coming out of Reserve High School will be ready for their careers and college courses after they graduate.
I attended and graduated from Reserve Schools. Our school is tight-knit, but small, and nestled in a very rural area, so to say that resources can sometimes be difficult to access is an understatement. That has always been the narrative of our community. Even so, my administration and teachers gave me every opportunity they possibly could, and as a result I was able to attend university feeling fully equipped and become a teacher. I wanted to be part of that story, part of the school that is the heart of my community, offers opportunity and true growth to our children, and ultimately changes the narrative for us all. My love for my community runs deep, and my love for my students runs deeper.
Without high and consistent expectations, which is what New Mexico’s standards and assessment currently provides, our momentum would be stalled. I wouldn’t love that.