Political News

New Mexico on track to meet federal education mandates

Posted April 11

— New Mexico is moving ahead with plans to keep raising the bar for students and public schools as it works to meet federal mandates aimed at resetting the outdated and widely criticized No Child Left Behind education law.

The state on Tuesday made public its plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, a law signed by former President Barack Obama that addresses school ratings, student report cards and other ways to spot and help troubled schools.

New Mexico is one of about 15 states that submitted plans to the federal government during the first round this month.

State Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said New Mexico is among the leaders because many of the accountability measures in the federal law were put in place by New Mexico several years ago, from higher achievement standards to school grading systems.

"We're in a very strong position to really support our students and our teachers well because we've done the hard work of putting these systems in place that many states are going to have to start doing now," Skandera said.

But teacher unions in New Mexico are raising concerns about reaching the department's lofty goals, citing a lack of adequate funding.

"Schools are already underfunded and now are told to write grants to get the money," Betty Patterson, president of NEA-New Mexico, said in a statement. "The state funding formula should provide all districts with needed budgets to pay our teachers and other educators in our schools a decent wage, reduce class sizes and provide adequate community supports."

The bipartisan education law was passed by Congress and signed by Obama in December 2015. It returns to states more control over schools, including a shift away from tying student performance on statewide reading and math tests to teacher evaluations.

Teachers' unions argued the high stakes associated with the tests were creating a culture of over-testing and detracting from the learning environment.

Skandera pointed to recent changes to New Mexico's evaluation system, noting that the weight of student scores has been reduced. She said the department plans to announce more changes soon based on feedback received during a statewide listening tour that also covered the state's plan for meeting federal requirements.

The plan outlines New Mexico's existing policies and initiatives along with goals that officials say are aligned with efforts to improve the state's stagnant economy in the coming decades based on job demands beyond 2030.

By 2020, for example, state officials are hoping at least half of students are proficient in reading and math and that 80 percent are graduating high school.

In the plan, the state suggests there's a moral and economic imperative to hold all students to the highest of standards.

"While the standard for high school graduation has been lowered by certain states around the country, New Mexico is committed to ensuring that when a student graduates from high school, he or she is prepared for college and a career in the 21st century," the plan reads.

New Mexico recently marked a graduation rate of 71 percent, an all-time high. But Skandera said more work needs to be done to ensure students are ready for a career or college, so the state will begin tracking college remediation rates and linking those back to high schools where the students studied.

The state also will add a science component to school grades and will look for more ways to reduce testing time, including on end-of-course exams and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, national standardized test.

Another focus will be empowering teachers, Skandera said.

"There's no research that says money buys a better education for kids. Certainly, resources matter, but the number one driver for great things for kids is our teachers," she said. "If you look at this plan, the feedback we're getting, the changes we're making, they are really grounded in how do we support our educators more and how do we give them more voice."

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