Feb. 2014 Column

The 30-day legislative session ended with a whirlwind of activity. Legislators scrambled to pass a state budget in the final 48 hours. The budget appears to be a great compromise with everyone receiving additional funds. Sometimes it’s more difficult to create a budget when you have additional funds than when you have to limit requests. The aftermath of such a session is daunting.

What do you get for your money? Educators will receive a 3 percent raise - which we appreciate. Salary and benefits make up approximately 85 percent of most school districts’ budgets. Discussion during the session centered on accountability of schools even though Legislative Finance Committee Deputy Director Charles Sallee stated schools are the most transparent government agency in New Mexico. Our budgets are visible via the Sunshine portal, all expenditures are approved in open meetings, testing data is available online and the Public Education Department maintains a statistical website which includes detailed information about each district.

Because 46 percent of state tax dollars already goes to education, some legislators are hesitant to pour additional funds into the pot. They claim there has been a lack of sufficient results when additional dollars have been spent on education. Some don’t believe they are getting much “bang for the buck.” Various reports list New Mexico 48th to 50th when it comes to ranking states based on academic performance. The sixty-four million dollar question is, “What determines a good school?”

As I peruse national school websites and look at district goals, almost every school has safety and producing good citizens as a priority for their community. Statistics show that most communities rank their local campuses very high, but tend to rank education nationally between mediocre or below average. I believe we rank our local schools high because we are vested in their success. What components should we use to rank our schools? Should we use standardized test results? Do these tests really measure a students’ ability to be successful? A recent article in Mind/Shift explained ACT and SAT scores are not good indicators of college academic success. The best predictor for academic success in college is a student’s high school grade point average. Typically the GPA is based on grades that take into account various activities such as quizzes, homework, class participation and teacher made tests. This menagerie of items appears to be a better predictor of success than one standalone test. Most educators are of the mindset that a single assessment does not paint the entire picture of a student. BUT with all the bits and pieces accumulated in a course grade, how do we know that a student is truly learning.

Data is the big buzz word. Data accumulated from the homework, quizzes, teacher made tests, common assessments and yes, the standardized tests, can give the teacher information to review, disaggregate and determine where the student is performing academically. HMS has spent several man hours reviewing student data so we can provide interventions for those who did not grasp the lesson on the first attempt. We also provide resources for students to expand their leaning if they already understand a concept or standard. This feeds into four questions the HMS district lives by: What do we expect our students to learn? How will we know they are learning it? What do we do if they don’t learn it? What do we do if they already know it?

Teacher collaboration is key to improving education. I have yet to observe a teacher who didn’t try to teach a lesson their best the first time around. So what type of intervention do they provide for the students who did not grasp the lesson? Do we speak slower and louder? We need to collaborate with our fellow professionals to find alternative methods of presenting material. Each teacher has their own delivery and expertise. Through the collaboration process teachers can get ideas from their peers that may enable them to reach students on a different format. This is where most educators become concerned with “merit pay.” If merit pay (pay for performance) is based on student achievement, we could see less collaboration. Teachers who have the gift will not share their knowledge with their peers for fear that their peers’ students may out perform their class. I know people think I am crazy and, at times, I agree, but education is a delicate balance of having the knowledge and being able to share it with children of varying ages and abilities. HMS is on a path of continuous improvement. Our schools are better today than they were last year and we will be better next year.

So what do you get for additional tax dollars at Hobbs Municipal Schools?

· You will see teachers collaborating to improve education;

· Improved academic performance;

· Technology to break the rural barriers of a small SENM community;

· Quality environment conducive to good education;

· A school which reflects the hard working community it represents

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