Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Big changes are planned for cornerstone education systems installed during the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez.
But before the state officially says goodbye to controversial structures such as A-F school grades or other school accountability processes that included the threat of closure for chronically low-performing schools, the community will get a brief period to weigh in on proposed replacements.
The Public Education Department posted revisions to the state’s federally approved Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, plan Thursday night, beginning an official two-week public input period.
“The revisions are really looking at school accountability work and the school grading, and moving away from A-F,” said Education Secretary-designate Karen Trujillo.
She said more revisions will be coming to ESSA in the future.
Included in Thursday night’s proposed changes are getting rid of school grades, no longer using the PARCC standardized test to measure student growth and shifting the state’s accountability system to a “New Mexico Spotlight dashboard.”
A survey is now available on the PED website (ped.state.nm.us) for people to provide input; it will be up for 14 days.
Compiling input is going to require a fast turnaround as the PED aims to submit its revisions to the U.S. Department of Education by the beginning of March.
Approval on the federal level is needed to move forward on the proposed changes.
Under the proposal, A-F school grades would be scrapped.
“The department is replacing the existing A-F school grading system with designations that shift the philosophy from identifying schools as ‘failing’ to providing support for schools in need and celebrating success,” the ESSA summary says.
The state is planning to launch the New Mexico Spotlight dashboard this fall.
The current A-F system provides a letter grade for a school, which is primarily grounded on student growth in reading and math, and measured partly through end-of-the-year exams, including PARCC.
The new dashboard will highlight high-performing schools, identify which schools need additional financial support and provide more details about the school. The dashboard echoes Senate Bill 229, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, which outlines what else will be included, such as a digital profile for individual schools that details academic achievement, and the school’s goals, missions, curricula and teacher quality, among other items.
Trujillo has said she’s excited about the dashboard concept, saying it gives parents and family more nuanced information that wasn’t encompassed through an A-F grade.
And she sees it as a tool for the PED to identify where schools need support.
While the New Mexico Spotlight dashboard will continue to identify schools that are under-performing, it takes closure off the table for schools that are identified as in need of “more rigorous intervention,” or MRI, the lowest ranking.
“Instead, the NM PED will provide critical resources and partner with schools, tribes and districts to significantly restructure and redesign the school with intensive support for curricular, instructional, and pedagogical practices, as well as pairing schools with evidence-based interventions, such as community schools models,” the plan says.
The possibility of closure was one of the most contentious parts of the previous MRI process, even resulting in lawsuits.
Currently, the state outlines four intervention strategies for MRI schools, including closure, reopening the school as a charter, advertising and facilitating transfers to higher-rated schools, or redesigning and relaunching the school. And if the intervention did not cause the schools to reach benchmarks by a certain time, closure was still a possibility.
Under the ESSA revisions, schools will be now be labeled as:
• New Mexico Spotlight School: Schools scoring above the 75th percentile.
• Traditional Support School: Schools scoring above the threshold for support and improvement.
• Targeted Support School: Schools with one or more groups of students in need of support.
• Comprehensive Support School: Schools scoring in the bottom 5 percent of schools overall, or those that have a graduation rate of less than 67 percent.
• More Rigorous Intervention School: Schools not exiting the Comprehensive Support School category after three years.
The state’s current plan has its own indications of targeted support, comprehensive support and MRI designations.
The ESSA revisions propose assessing schools on student academic performance, including graduation rates, student achievement growth, English-language proficiency, and indicators of school quality that contribute to college and career readiness.
The ESSA amendments also detail the elimination of PARCC to measure student growth.
“The amendments replace the PARCC assessment and Value Added Modeling from the ESSA calculation, while still keeping the focus of determinations on student growth,” the plan summary says.
Some are worried about the tight deadline to provide feedback.
Amanda Aragon, executive director of the nonprofit group NewMexicoKidsCAN, said, “I understand the timeline from the U.S. Department of Education is tight, and I understand we have a new governor and a new PED … but squeezing what took over a year into two weeks, there’s no way that can meet the bar of enough stakeholder engagement.”
She also questioned the need for changes.
“We have looked through all the reviews from nationwide organizations, comparing and contrasting state ESSA plans. In nearly all of them, if not all, New Mexico is highlighted, so our fundamental question is going to be: Why are we making changes?”
This was echoed by Aly Sha Wagley, a teacher at Animas High School and co-founder of Educators for Elevating New Mexico, another organization made up of educators, principals and education assistants.
She said her group will be analyzing the proposed changes to ESSA and offering feedback, but added she didn’t think the PED was providing enough time for people to comment on the revisions.
Trujillo said the ESSA revisions mirror what the state’s School Grades Work Group determined when it researched school grades. That group, created through a Senate memorial and made up of teachers, superintendents, parents, a Public Education Department representative and others, was formed in 2017.
She also said the PED is touring the state to get feedback and meeting with school officials.
“We’ve already started engaging the community, and we are already touring the state and getting feedback on the changes,” she said, adding the PED will be implementing feedback throughout the process.
Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said what PED does with community feedback is more important than how long it takes to gather it. “You can ask for input for a really long time and totally ignore it or ask for input for less time and take it into consideration,” she said.
Ultimately, she said the union is excited to see changes coming to ESSA and hopes they reflect current education research, which she believes is lacking in the state’s current plan.
The union NEA NM said it also welcomes proposed changes to ESSA.