The Year That Was: Our Students, Our Progress, Our Voices

The Year That Was: Our Students, Our Progress, Our Voices

The 2017-18 school year was one of many milestones, celebrations, and achievements for public education in New Mexico.  It has been a year of unprecedented progress—from the Schoolhouse to the Roundhouse and everywhere in between.  Just last month, the largest Teacher Summit in our state’s history occurred with hundreds of educators coming together to equip, empower, and champion our profession and the new era of teacher leader voice in the Land of Enchantment.  That event featured the culmination of three years of work leading to the unveiling of the state’s first ever Teacher Preparation Scorecards and a giant push to ensure that more of our aspiring teachers are day one ready.  In May, we saw a first-of-its-kind $1 million grant to all of our districts and charters for teacher recruitment, record amounts of funding and students served in both Pre-K and K-3+, and final school turnaround plans established for some of the state’s most struggling schools backed by $2 million in additional support for each individual school.

This spring, the NM-True Straight-A Express Tour, an idea that came from a regional school board meeting in Tucumcari about a year earlier, made its final stop in Des Moines.  As that statewide tour of 60 districts and 122 schools came to a close, the launch of the first ever NM-True Excellence in Teaching Tour kicked off with early stops in Farmington and Bloomfield, where I witnessed high craft in Mr. Starr’s AP Physics class fueling the feeling of urgency that more and more students need to have access to that level of high quality, rigorous course content, and instruction.

Turns out we are on that path already.  In January, Governor Martinez announced record high numbers of students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses and exams.  And more ground was broken in April when five New Mexico teacher-leaders from Las Cruces, Shiprock, Reserve, Albuquerque, and Texico delivered the keynote address at the annual Spring Budget Conference.  At that conference, there was even more good news to report as just one month earlier the Governor had signed HB-2 (“The Budget Bill”) which contained $115 million more for public education, bringing the total to $450 million more state dollars for public education during this administration.  That amount included funding for compensation increases across-the-board, and to support the bipartisan Senate Bill 119, increasing minimum teacher salaries at every licensure level.

There were other major milestones in 2017-18: Federal approval of New Mexico’s top-rated plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the adoption of best-in-class national standards (now effective as of July 1!) in both the arts and in science, less time on testing, and ten more instructional days added to the academic calendar, the expansion of the nation’s largest and highest-performing school turnaround networks (Principals Pursuing Excellence and Teachers Pursuing Excellence), the trailblazing work being done by the Social Studies Dream Team, and the state’s inaugural Family Cabinet.  The ‘year that was’ saw more students taking the free PSAT exam and setting up their free individualized Khan Academy accounts and the Public Education Commission continuing to strengthen the state’s charter sector through difficult decisions around school closures, school openings, and the first-ever charter school replication.  None of this progress has been easy—it’s all hard-fought.

And high honors were bestowed upon some of our state’s best teachers: The Milken Award to Melanie Alfaro of Deming in December and – in one of my proudest moments on the job- the selection of Ivonne Orozco of Public Academy for the Performing Arts (PAPA) as the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year in October.  Without their leadership, and your leadership, we would not be where we are today.

Even with all of those highlights, perhaps nothing is more important than our recent announcement about our students’ academic progress over the past four years.  All credit goes to New Mexico’s teachers and support staff, parents and families, Superintendents and Charter Leaders, and many, many more for ushering in an era of exciting progress for kids in New Mexico.

Last week we announced that New Mexico’s students are demonstrating unprecedented academic progress in reading and math.  We have focused on improving our instructional practices and measuring progress, and more kids are truly on path to college and career.

Nearly a decade ago, the previous administration adopted higher college and career ready standards. Our districts, schools, educators, families, and students have risen to the challenge.  New Mexico now owns the unique distinction of having stayed the course, being independently-minded, and building upon our strong foundation and conviction about what every student can achieve.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • New Mexico’s student achievement gains over the past several years are substantial—since 2015, the entire state is up 4.7 percentage points in reading and 4.2 percentage points in math.  Every grade level is up in reading, and almost every grade level is up in math.
  • This means something real for students and families.  Since 2015, 24,000 more students, 11,000 more in math and 13,000 more in reading, are at grade level or above. 9,000 of those students grew to that level just in the last academic year, which was New Mexico’s fourth year of administration of the PARCC assessment.
  • We are proving that our students from all backgrounds can grow and achieve at higher levels.  Native American students are showing the most academic progress statewide—up 8.2% in reading—with Hispanic students, students from low income backgrounds, and English Learners all showing major gains.  Overall, the achievement gap is narrowing, a testament to our collective commitment to equity and access for all students.
  • Many districts that have embraced change and seized new opportunities are showing the most dramatic student achievement gains. It’s no coincidence that districts such as Farmington, Gallup, Hobbs, and Gadsden are leading the way. They have embraced a data-driven culture, talent recruitment and development, and meaningful accountability and support.  Farmington, Gallup, and Hobbs were also early adopters of Principals Pursuing Excellence—one of the largest and most successful school turnaround networks in the country.  These are districts that put more money directly into the classroom and do not shy away from innovation or difficult conversations that need to be had.
  • Farmington is now the top-performing school district in reading amongst the state’s ten largest districts—up nearly 15 percentage points in reading since 2015.  Gadsden has shown the most growth in mathematics, up nearly nine percentage points since 2015.
  • Eighteen of the state’s 20 largest districts are up in reading. Over the last eight years, New Mexico made heavy investments and put a major focus on early literacy as the foundation for all student success.  Many students started their academic careers under more rigorous standards, participated in early literacy programs, and have grown over time.  There is promise for the future if New Mexico remains on this trajectory—if so there will continue to be new generations of rising readers.
  • Districts like Los Lunas, Central Consolidated, Lovington, Artesia, Texico, Clovis, and Roswell represent a second wave of districts following this same trend. They have embraced higher standards, individualized instruction through PSAT/Khan Academy, are investing more money directly into the classroom, and understand the power of regular formative and interim assessments at the local level.
  • And there is so much to learn from high-performing and fast-growing schools like Gil Sanchez Elementary in Belen, like Union Elementary in West Las Vegas, like Explore Academy and North Valley Academy in Albuquerque, like Mesquite Elementary in Gadsden. These are schools that have demonstrated double-digit gains through innovation and excellence in instruction.  There are dozens of other examples of schools that are “beating the odds”, myth-busting around what is possible for every child, and creating beacons of excellence from which we can draw inspiration and best practices.  Our student achievement results are on the rise because of schools like these…

It is clear; the student achievement data shows that New Mexico’s students are on the rise.  These examples across the state serve as a reminder of that.  We should be proud of the progress districts and charters across the state have shown—and celebrate them.

It’s also becoming more and more evident to all that we, as a community of educators, must keep momentum and a laser-focus on improving instructional practice:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1196483/student-gains-a-strong-reason-to-keep-parcc.html

It is an honor to work alongside all of you each day on behalf of our kids and an exciting moment to be working in public education in New Mexico.  Please stay tuned for more information on how we will continue to celebrate success and champion progress, while we also constantly look for ways in which we can better serve our students.  It’s BOTH/AND, almost never EITHER/OR if we want to ensure that New Mexico is the fastest growing state in the country by 2020 and beyond.

Meanwhile, we prepare for our students to arrive in just a few short weeks for 2018-19.

Congratulations.  Onward.

Secretary Ruszkowski

2 Replies to “The Year That Was: Our Students, Our Progress, Our Voices”

  1. You didn’t mention the cancelled Excellence in Teaching/Hard to Staff Funding bonuses. Why is that? Sure was announced with a lot of fanfare. Where is the $5 Million?

    1. Hi Oscar,
      Thank you so much for visiting the blog. The Excellence in Teaching awards have not been cancelled. They will be awarded this fall after NMTEACH results have been shared. Because the legislature appropriated less than we requested, the award amounts are not set (the $5K/10K amounts are maxiumums).

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