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Editorial: Care about schools? Forums offer chance to speak up

A huge majority – 85 percent – of likely voters say in a new Journal poll that the quality of New Mexico’s public school education is a serious problem.

Fully 63 percent say it is “very serious.”

So as the state Public Education Department hosts community forums over the next month to gather information on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and Albuquerque Public Schools holds its own public forums, it is essential that New Mexicans make their input count.

And that means remembering where we came from, where we are, and where we need to go.

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Before the current PED administration, there were no school report cards to let educators, parents and taxpayers know how their schools affected student academic performance. There were no meaningful teacher evaluations to let school leaders and teachers know how they affected student academic performance.

And there was no standardized test linked to other states to let educators, parents and taxpayers know how New Mexico students stacked up against their out-of-state peers.

In short, there was no accountability. And that’s perfect – if you want a system where the adults who work there are the top priority.

Where we are this year is in a place where schools and districts that have focused on their school grades, teacher evaluations and test scores are improving their students’ academic performance. Districts like Farmington, Gallup, Gadsden and Pojoaque posted big gains on the PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). All are either data-driven or participating in PED’s Principals Pursuing Excellence and Teachers Pursuing Excellence mentoring programs, which concentrate on improving student achievement.

Conversely, schools and districts that are not focusing on the data are not improving – and the takeaway from that is their students aren’t, either.

Where we need to go is continuing to improve on the quality of the data provided in school grades, teacher evaluations, and PARCC and end-of-course exam scores.

For those who plan to show up at forums to argue that New Mexico should dump the measures, they should know that school grades are required by state law. Teacher evaluations are in state rules promulgated by PED, and the information they provide is key to complying with ESSA.

And standardized tests like PARCC are required by federal law, while end-of-course exams are in state statute.

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So New Mexicans should use these forums not to try to undo reforms that have started working but to continue to improve on these accountability measures and get more schools and districts on board.

Just as PED has refined school grades by factoring in nonacademic metrics, teacher evaluations by having teachers graded only on students they have taught in their subjects, and tests by reducing the hours spent testing, the department should continue to listen and act upon smart suggestions from thoughtful stakeholders who offer ideas on how the measures can work even better. (Such as lowering the percentage test scores play in teacher evaluations, a reasonable step.)

Nine community forums are scheduled around the state through Nov. 15; a complete list is at ABQJournal.com.

The 85 percent of voters who believe New Mexico schools are in trouble – parents, educators, business and community leaders, and not just teachers union naysayers – need to get invested in these conversations.

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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