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Expert backs grading system, teacher evals

SANTA FE – New Mexico should improve its K-12 education system by increasing both resources and accountability for schools, education pundit Kati Haycock told state lawmakers at the Roundhouse on Monday.

“Accountability without resources won’t work, but neither will resources without accountability,” said Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for closing achievement gaps among poor and minority students. Haycock was invited to speak by a group of New Mexico business associations.

During her talk, Haycock used national test score data to argue that New Mexico has some of the poorest education outcomes in the country, and she said that, while many poor and minority kids come to school already behind their peers, that can’t be an excuse for allowing achievement gaps to persist.

Haycock cited 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores that show New Mexico ranked 50th in fourth-grade reading scores, 48th in fourth-grade math scores, 49th in eighth-grade reading scores and 47th in eighth-grade reading scores.

An annual National Education Association study found New Mexico ranks 20th in per-pupil education spending. This ranking can vary depending on the study. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau offered a ranking in 2011 that listed New Mexico 37th in terms of per-pupil spending.

Haycock said it’s good that New Mexico has enacted education policies like adoption of the Common Core, creation of an A-F school grading system and a teacher evaluation system based on student test scores, which increase school accountability. Those policies were pushed by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Not everyone looks upon those policies favorably, however. Teachers unions and some local school officials have questioned whether the state’s school grading and teacher evaluation systems accurately measure school and teacher effectiveness.

“(Haycock) was long on statistics and the problem, but she was short on the solutions,” said Charles Goodmacher, National Education Association-New Mexico’s director of government relations.

Goodmacher said nothing in Haycock’s talk changed his mind that the teacher evaluation system is flawed. NEA-New Mexico has filed a lawsuit against the state challenging the evaluation system.

Moments after Haycock finished her noon-hour talk, Republican lawmakers took to the House floor to advocate for a bill that would hold back third-grade students who cannot read at grade level – another of Martinez’s education policy goals.

Haycock said it is important that students be able to read by the third grade, but did not address retention policies.

“It’s wrong to put students in classes they’re not ready for. It’s not fair for the students, it’s not fair for the teachers and it’s not fair to their classmates,” said Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored the House version of the third-grade retention bill.

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, sponsored the Senate version. The House Education Committee will hold a hearing on the bill today at 8:30 a.m.

Teachers are skeptical of the retention policy, Goodmacher said, adding, “It doesn’t help.”

Goodmacher said much of what is in the retention bill is actually about increasing reading interventions for students, which is good so long as its funded.