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Pushing students to their best

As the school year starts, I continue to be amazed by what parents will endure to provide their children with the best education possible. Spread out over 2,000 square miles, families in New Mexico drive their children to attend my school from as far south as Socorro and as far north as Santa Fe to provide their children with opportunities for success.

Why? Because when parents have clear information, they’re willing to do whatever is necessary to support their children’s future.

I see students, parents, and teachers striving for success every single day at my school, the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science (AIMS). Now in its eighth year of operation, AIMS is a state-authorized charter school. For all of us here, that information students need to succeed comes in the form of data; specifically student growth on assessments.

As “incubators of innovation,” charter schools can implement reform quickly and efficiently. I experienced this firsthand when we received our SBA scores on our incoming sixth graders six years ago. They were dismal!

After breaking down the scores and presenting the data, my teachers were devastated. Two, in particular, had students who were actually losing ground.

We knew that it was time for a fundamental change in how we shape our students’ futures. We needed to measure and evaluate success in the most effective way possible.

That’s when we implemented an evaluation tool tied to teacher compensation. Student growth became a key component when evaluating teachers at AIMS.

Improvement in student learning was seen the very next year.

In 2007, our incoming sixth graders had a math proficiency of 42 percent and a reading proficiency of 37 percent. Today as seniors, those same students are 100 percent proficient in both math and reading.

The achievement gap has diminished from 38 percent in reading to 1 percent currently.

This past year, the school was rated 42nd in the nation by the Washington Post. Our achievements are handily reflected in our report card; we got an A.

Now that’s information a parent is willing to endure hardship for.

And those two devastated teachers? Today they are my most highly effective teachers in the classroom.

Teachers themselves knew that they had to have student data in order to make informed decisions about their teaching and that accountability was imperative for student achievement. In fact, three years ago teachers demanded we increase the student growth component from 35 percent to 50 percent of the total evaluation; they wanted full benefit of their student’s gains.

This system created a culture in which all of us have a clear understanding of what defines excellence in our work. We don’t just think we’re doing a good job, we know it!

Teachers are provided with constructive and data-based information about their impact in the classroom and receive support to increase their effectiveness. Hard conversations don’t scare us; we have the information and direction to improve.

Accountability for student improvement isn’t about contention; it’s an invitation and opportunity to see what really works.

Today we continue to think about how we can best put our students first. That’s the purpose of charters; to innovate and provide children with the best education possible.

One can see the impact charters have made on educational reform here in New Mexico. Five of the top “A” rated schools in the state are charters here in the Albuquerque area; AIMS is one of them.

We can’t stop now. We must enact reform and expand charter school legislation. We must continue to set high expectations and strong academic standards for students.

It’s time schools across the state value effective teachers and leaders with policies that reward student growth.

All students in New Mexico must have the education they deserve; not just the lucky few drawn in a lottery. Reform for all New Mexico students is the goal and our students are worth the effort.