A Reasonable and Measured Approach
Education in New Mexico and throughout the nation is undergoing significant change. Newly introduced Common Core Standards are replacing learning benchmarks that required a generation of students to be “proficient.” Federal “No Child Left Behind” assessments used in past years called for students to be proficient as measured by Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The failure of these standards is demonstrated by the oft-reported failure of NM high school graduates to be prepared for college or careers. AYP standards have been replaced with New Mexico Standards Based Assessment tests that measure individual student growth during each year.
In addition, a New Mexico teacher evaluation process that simply rated teachers satisfactory (99 percent of the time) or unsatisfactory is being replaced with a new evaluation protocol that rates teachers in five categories ranging from exemplar to minimally effective and identifies individualized areas for professional growth.
These national and state educational changes are being rapidly implemented in New Mexico generally through mandates from the Public Education Department (PED). The relatively large number of mandated changes being rapidly implemented has led to increased frustration by a substantial number of the instructional staff in Los Alamos. Many teachers are raising their voices to say “when is enough?” My administration shares these concerns and has voiced them to PED staff. The Board also allocated substantial funds for training and additional support staff this year.
The tradeoff, of course, is that training also puts an additional load on the classroom teacher. Since the new standards and their timing are mandated by state rule, however, we have limited options. As such, the Board, at the recommendation of the administration, has directed the administration to work with teachers on lessening the impact of implementing these state mandated rules and create more time for teachers to focus on instruction of students. This will be done by carefully analyzing local programs and requirements that interfere with instructional time and ensuring that the district understands the minimum requirements of the mandates.
This reasonable and measured approach begins Wednesday, Oct. 16 when I convene a study group of teachers to review their concerns and develop a set of recommendations to be shared with the School Board. With their approval, these concerns and our planned remedies will be shared with New Mexico Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera.
Excellence in education is a time honored mantra for Los Alamos. Our expectations for student achievement are as correspondingly high as is our expectation for high quality instruction in the classroom. Very clearly, research shows effective teachers are the most important factor in promoting student achievement. As such, it is important to listen to our teachers and learn from them. In doing so, I believe it is possible to respond in a reasonable and measured approach that ensures our high expectations for student achievement, continues our teachers’ focus on high quality instruction, and brings balance to requirements that affect our teachers’ effectiveness.