December 2013 Column

  Merry Christmas! I would like to follow up on a couple of comments Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera made during her presentation to Hobbs Municipal Schools on Dec 2. Comments I make are based on information HMS has received from the Public Education Department. When quizzed about the number of tests students take, Secretary Skandera said short cycle assessments (Interim assessments) are a local district choice. HMS believes the only choice we have is which test vendor we choose to supply our tests. Currently, the state will reimburse the district if they select a vendor approved by PED. There were also some questions about first-year teacher evaluations, second-year teachers, etc. I will not get into that detailed topic because it is very confusing, yet extremely important how teachers will be evaluated the first three years of the new evaluation system.
 
  As I stated before, I do not believe in using standardized test as part of the teacher evaluation. We have read and had conversations with testing companies who state their products are not designed for a teacher evaluation model. They are designed as a moment in time to measure student performance. Dibels Next is a perfect example. The two tests measure growth and a completely different sets of reading readiness skills. Results also can be manipulated by the teacher who is giving the test. As we learned from El Paso and Atlanta, when you use testing to determine whether a person retains their employment, cheating is likely and will happen.

  The second part of the Secretary’s presentation was shortened due to the amount of time spent on teacher evaluation. Graduation is a tremendous concern for many students planning to graduate in May 2014 and beyond. I think we can all agree that we would like to see higher standards. We also want to make sure that students who graduate perform on grade level. Just raising the bar has the same effect as hoping we’ll win the lottery. It’s possible, but not likely. The Public Education Department sent out an email Nov. 12 allowing districts to use local options for creating Alternative Demonstration of Competency for graduation. Currently, seniors must be proficient on a standardized exam in Math, Science and Reading. Writing and Social Studies are measured by other means. As of Nov. 1, 48 percent of all high school seniors in New Mexico had not achieved proficiency in all five areas (as measured by the SBA). The list of Alternative Demonstration of Competency (ADC) the Secretary spoke of during her presentation assisted very few seniors because it was actually more difficult than the assessment. ACT can be used as a substitute, but in Science the ACT qualifying score is 23 with a score of 22 for Math. The ADC for an Advanced Placement exam is a three or better. In our cross referencing, any student who scored a three of better also scored Advanced on the SBA - which did not qualify any additional students for graduation.

  Theory and philosophy are great conversation pieces. If you want to know the ins and outs of education, I would suggest speaking with professionals who have been in the business 25 years or more who have seen multiple reforms come and go. By raising the standards alone, we will lose some of our seniors. We have already seen students withdrawing from school to take the GED, for fear they cannot pass the standardized exam. If this is the outcome we want, then be prepared for an increase in dropout rates. It’s near impossible to have higher standards as well as low dropout rates without proper planning and implementation. If we want to have an impact on our students we need to concentrate on our preK students. The problem is most bureaucrats do not see this as a viable option, because they will be out of office before the results are seen.

  Hobbs Municipal Schools is in the process of adopting a local board policy to address the current high school seniors. PED has already said they will close the loophole in the regulation, to remove local option for the following years. Losing local control is a topic for another article. I made a proposal to the Legislative Education Study Committee for a two-tiered diploma. Students who meet all the course requirements but fail to pass the SBA or other Alternative Demonstration of Competency receive a “regular diploma.” Students who meet the course requirements AND pass the five criteria on the SBA receive a “Diploma of Excellence.”

  Students who have passed the local course requirements deserve a diploma. Without a high school diploma, we negatively impact a student for the rest of their lives. The state is concerned about the number of students who require remediation in collegiate courses. I believe most of those students are not prepared for college because they did not participate in courses aligned with higher education curriculum. Until we can mandate courses for students or determine who is allowed into college, high schools are working at a disadvantage. Let’s try the two-tiered system and monitor who is requiring the remediation classes. If students who attained the “Diploma of Excellence” are requiring remediation then we certainly have an alignment or rigor issue.

  I hope we can continue to work together as a community. The gift of an education is one that will continue to give throughout student lives. Education can break all socioeconomic barriers. I hope each student accepts the gift of an excellent education from Hobbs Municipal Schools as it is a two-way street. You must “believe to receive”.
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