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Can Hawthorne keep student gains without reforms?

When it comes to K-12 education, accountability and transparency can lead to real academic improvements for students – even if they mean adults have to face some tough realities.

Look no further than Hawthorne Elementary in Albuquerque Public Schools. As Journal reporter Shelby Perea wrote Oct. 11, the once-faltering school in the neighborhood south of Los Altos Park has made huge strides since the days it was threatened with state closure due to low performance.

In December 2017, then-Gov. Susana Martinez’s Public Education Department identified Hawthorne as being in need of “more rigorous intervention” by virtue of the school earning consecutive “F” grades, grades based in great part on growth – or lack thereof – in student learning. And under that rigorous intervention, Hawthorne made important gains via an almost totally new staff and community school structure, longer school day and year, additional technology in classes and prioritized teacher professional development.

And the improvements in student achievement have been impressive. Hawthorne students had the highest reading score improvements in Albuquerque Public Schools for the 2018-19 school year – up more than 10 percentage points in third through fifth grades. Great news, though the school’s reading proficiency of 17.5% and equally low math scores mean there’s much work to be done.

But that may be tough considering the system that set Hawthorne on its current path to success has been gutted. Under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, PED has revised the PARCC standardized test, and dumped teacher evaluations and A-F school grades that include student academic improvement. It has also removed the “more rigorous intervention” status from Hawthorne and two other schools, which eliminated close to $700,000 in improvement-plan funding for each campus, along with the threat of closure.

And so while Gabriella Blakey, an APS associate superintendent for Hawthorne’s learning zone, maintains the school will stay the course because “it’s something that is working” – it’s questionable that she, her principals or teachers will have the tools to do so. Ditto for parents and taxpayers who want easy access to data that shows how the school is doing.

Yes, the MRI designation, “F” school grades, low proficiency scores and threat of closure were indeed tough realities for the adults in APS to deal with. But Hawthorne’s progress on behalf of its students’ academic improvement shows they provided a much-needed wake-up call that did more than get everyone’s attention.

It got positive action, as well. Here’s to APS and Lujan Grisham’s PED figuring out a way to build on that momentum with fidelity, accountability and transparency.

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.

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