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Editorial: PED, NM teachers build on success for ESSA plan

The New Mexico Public Education Department has unveiled its federally required plan outlining how the state will educate its elementary and secondary school students for years to come. It builds on past successes; fine tunes some requirements; addresses 50 concerns that came directly from New Mexico parents, teachers and communities; and calls for two years of consistency and stability for students, teachers and administrators before implementing changes.

In short, it capitalizes on the state’s nascent positive momentum and fuels it with input from some of the people who have already made our K-12 public education system better.

And while the overall student proficiency numbers are dismal, they are better. Though they lag the nation, graduation rates are up to 70 percent, PARCC math results are up 14.4 percent, PARCC English results are up 4.9 percent, school grades are up with more “A” and “B” schools, Advanced Placement testing is up with the state ranked second in the nation for growth in test-taking and teacher evaluations are up with 30 percent more teachers rated highly effective and exemplary.

There is no question we remain at the bottom of most education stats nationally, but progress must start somewhere.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015 and requires states to submit accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education; the inaugural plans will start in the 2017-18 school year. These plans must address proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency and graduation rates, and they must try to close achievement gaps and graduation rates between all groups of students.

PED Secretary Hanna Skandera says the state is in a great position to move forward because of the groundwork laid over the past six and a half years. Rather than having to come up with teacher evaluations and school grades like some states, New Mexico is able to take stakeholder feedback and modify its existing systems, as it did earlier this month when it combined best practices with teacher concerns to drop the weight of student improvement on standardized tests in teacher evaluations from 50 percent to 35 percent.

Yet predictably, the unions have been quick to attack the plan, claiming teachers were marginalized in its development and it doesn’t address their concerns. That simply does not square with PED spending late 2016 and early 2017 visiting 21 schools, hosting a summit with 700 teachers or holding 25 community and parent events – which gave anyone with an interest in education a chance to weigh in.

Predictably, reform-avoidant Albuquerque Public Schools – along with six other districts and 15 charter schools – held a separate forum, ostensibly to influence the ESSA plan from the outside. But to put that in proper context, it should be noted that:

⋄  Districts that have worked with PED have made strides in student growth (Skandera singles out Farmington as a standout in taking advantage of improvement programs and making them pay off),

⋄  APS agreed in an email to the move to 35 percent on evals and

⋄  ESSA compliance is the law of the land.

At the end of the day, APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy and her separate-forum cohorts should put aside their politics and commit to working with PED to achieve the goals laid out in the ESSA plan.

Those include: Gradually increasing the benchmark on PARCC scores to ensure competency for high school graduation, ensuring that fewer high school seniors need remedial education to enter college and increasing the overall graduation rate to 80 percent by 2020. How can APS and the unions possibly oppose this?

The plan also calls for English-language learners to be fluent within six years and the closure, reconstituting or hiring of outside management for very low-performing schools that fail to show considerable improvement after four years of intervention.

All make sense and have student well-being at their core.

PED’s ESSA plan – available online at ped.state.nm.us/ped/ESSA.html – is a well-researched, data-driven road map for improving elementary and secondary education in our state that incorporates suggestions and addresses concerns from many of our state’s front-line educators. New Mexico can continue to look back and listen to the naysayers who have dismissed the many improvements to date.

Or it can face forward as a whole and continue to make New Mexico a leader when it comes to ensuring the Every Student Succeeds Act applies to every child in each of the 89 school districts in the Land of Enchantment.

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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