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Editorial: NM parents deserve data on their school’s academic performance

Now that the U.S. Department of Education has approved New Mexico’s request to drop its established A-F school grading system in favor of under-construction school dashboards, it is essential the Public Education Department ensures those continue to drive real academic-performance data to parents, students and taxpayers – and not just an automatic pass because a school’s mission sounds good and it won a survey popularity contest.

The most valuable takeaway from those old-school six-page school report cards was always the academic data – page No. 1 showed whether students at a school were performing at grade level; if the school as a whole was improving academically; how the school compared to the rest in the state; if the school ensured its struggling students as well as its high achievers were making academic progress; and in the case of high schools, if students were graduating and ready for college or careers.

By comparison, PED Deputy Secretary Timothy Hand emphasizes the dashboards will be “an opportunity for schools to provide a narrative that tells the story of their school and then also describes the school’s mission, and vision and values and programmatic offerings at the school.” He’s also planning on expanding the survey portion in the spring.

Granted, the dashboards are a work in progress with a serious deadline; Hand says “we’ll be ready by November 2019” to roll them out for all K-12 schools in the state. It is exciting Hand wants to add per-pupil spending, teacher licensure levels, number of counselors at the school and after-school programs. Plans are to continue to provide data on chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness and graduation rates. And by federal law (the Every Student Succeeds Act) they have to contain some academic data – math and reading proficiency and growth, as well as English language and science proficiency.

Unfortunately, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered on a campaign promise and left the state without a standardized test benchmarked to the past five years of data. So PED says virtually all dashboard info will be from the 2018-2019 school year – fresh, to be sure, but not helpful if you want to see if students at a school improve year to year, the core expectation a school should deliver on.

That move abandons the data (and thus underlying policies and programs) that shows our students have made impressive academic progress over the past seven years – including 13,000 more N.M. students reading at grade level and 11,000 more on grade-level in math since 2015.

It was that level of granular comparability – the ability to evaluate how your student and school were doing vs. peers in multiple academic areas and student subgroups, along with how well the school educated students over time – that finally put parents in the driver’s seat when it came to their child’s education.

So let’s hope come November PED’s dashboards do what they can to keep them there.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.