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Put our students first by ending social promotion

Last month, both nationally and in New Mexico, voters expressed a desire for change by overwhelmingly choosing new leadership and a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. The biggest issue that came up in this campaign cycle was education – the people have spoken and they want our students to come first!

I feel this way, too. Our students have been at the bottom of too many lists.

In 2013, students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a nationwide test, ranked New Mexico 49th in the country. These results are worse than shocking.

The low educational attainment starts early. The ability to read at grade level by the third grade is the No. 1 indicator as to whether or not a student will graduate from high school. In our state, only about half of third-grade students are reading at or above grade level.

Despite this reality, New Mexico law still allows for the practice of social promotion, meaning students who are unable to read are promoted on to the next grade level, exacerbating the problem and contributing to the dropout rate.

Across the past four years, the New Mexico Legislature has had the opportunity to enact a law that would stop this practice and ensure that children get the help that they need. Statewide polls conducted in 2012 and 2014 have indicated that three-quarters of New Mexicans support ending the practice of social promotion.

While historically the legislature has ignored this evidence of public support, it is now time to enact legislation that ends social promotion, a damaging practice that has lifelong repercussions for our most vulnerable students. This bill can help make sure we provide schools and teachers with the tools they need to prioritize and focus on getting our youngest students to learn to read.

Those who continue to fight this reform are doing so against the will of New Mexicans and worst, against what is best for our students. Denying good ideas just because they come from a different political party may be the status quo in Washington, D.C., but New Mexicans expect their leaders to work together on solutions. There is never a good time for political obstructionism and voters are paying attention.

Of course, there are no silver bullets for fixing our state’s education problem. Ending social promotion is just one of several actions needed to make a difference.

We should also work to make sure our students can read at grade level by assessing their progress throughout the year, ensuring they are receiving targeted interventions, and providing families with tools to support for reading at home.

We should evaluate our teachers, school leaders and schools based on whether students are learning by continuing to implement school grading and evaluation systems that prioritize student achievement.

The good news is, while changing low educational outcomes isn’t easy, it is possible. In the past four years, we have seen that reform initiatives like school grades are helping.

Since receiving a waiver from No Child Left Behind, New Mexico has been able to implement our school grading system that captures the unique challenges our students face while prioritizing that each child grows academically.

Along with school grades, there has been a new priority placed on using data to inform instruction and supports for schools that are struggling.

Over the past two years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of “A” and “B” schools, meaning more students are learning and growing the way they should.

There is still work to do, but those results show things are moving in the right direction. And our students are benefiting.

I look forward to working with my colleagues toward enacting reform legislation like the reading bill that ends social promotion and moves us in the forward direction to ensure that we make good on our campaign promises and ensure that our students come first.

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