New Mexico Gets Rid of A-F School Grading System

New Mexico Gets Rid of A-F School Grading System

By Cindy Long

For the past several years, students at Dulce Elementary School, on the Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation in New Mexico, faced the threat of school closure. The only elementary school in the district, if it closed students would have to rise before dawn for a long bus ride over bumpy, dusty roads to the closest schools, more than 30 or 40 miles away.

But rather than punishing the students and their tribal community by closing the only elementary school for miles, New Mexico’s new governor and secretary of education will amend the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), scrap the A-F school grading system and replace the policy of labeling schools as ‘failing’ in favor of actually supporting schools in need and celebrating successes of schools doing well or making progress.

This is ESSA done right, says NEA–New Mexico Vice President Mary Parr-Sanchez.

“The proposed changes to New Mexico’s ESSA plan will ensure that the state and local school districts are measuring things that are important and highlight what is good about a school as well as what needs improvement,” Parr-Sanchez says. “Before, the state ESSA plan merely highlighted shortcomings of schools, with no offer of how to support.

All three schools in the Dulce Independent Public School District on the Jicarilla Apache Nation will finally receive the funding they so desperately need, have applied for, and have been denied under the punitive measures of the previous education secretary, which focused on test scores. Now the district will receive support on things like family engagement and attendance and the emphasis on test scores will be reduced.

Don’t Flunk Schools, Support Them

Beyond the Apache reservation, support will extend throughout the state to the many schools who need assistance. Last year, more than two thirds of the New Mexico’s schools received Ds or Fs; in Santa Fe, 56 percent of schools received the lowest grades.

NEA-New Mexico and other public education advocates called for legislators to recognize that slapping bad grades on a school and threatening them with closure or privatization was not the solution; students at these schools needed better supports.

The new governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, ran on making big revisions to the ESSA plan put in place by her predecessor. Those included getting rid of teacher evaluation through test scores, the A through F system for grading schools, and PARCC tests.

NEA-New Mexico members overwhelmingly supported Grisham in the election and from “Day One,” says Parr-Sanchez, “Grisham has worked to change the bad and harmful practices of her predecessor. From Day One, she ended PARCC testing and the grading and labeling of schools in need,” Sanchez says. “This is why elections are so important for educators.”

Accountability to Come Through New Indicators

The shift does not mean that “there are no consequences for underperformance,” said Karen Trujillo, New Mexico’s new secretary of education. “With high levels of support must come high levels of accountability.”

The state is planning to launch a “New Mexico Spotlight Dashboard” in fall 2019, will celebrate the success of the highest performing schools, identify schools that the department will support with federal grant money, and provide families with an opportunity to learn more about their local schools.

“We believe that when schools struggle academically, the system is failing the school, not the other way around,” says education secretary Trujillo.

Based on indicators of academic performance and school climate rather than test score data alone, the New Mexico Education Department will collaborate with districts, schools, and communities to determine what resources are needed to support schools on their path to student success.

Trujillo says the dashboard will give more nuanced information about schools not offered with a simple A-F grade.

Recognizing that there is much more to a school’s story than test scores, the proposed amendments shift points for elementary and middle schools from test scores to educational climate. For high schools, the amendments increase the points for improvements in graduation rates to emphasize an improvement-oriented approach.

“This shift in philosophy will allow the education department to allocate federal resources where they can make the most impact and help every student succeed,” says Trujillo.

This article originally appeared in NeaToday.

Federal Flash: The Education Question Betsy DeVos Can’t Answer

Federal Flash: The Education Question Betsy DeVos Can’t Answer

By Rachel Bird Niebling

During a wide-ranging hearing held by the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified on a wide range of Education Department priorities.

Federal Flash covers the controversial exchanges during the hearing, including one question that DeVos struggled to answer.

The House Education and Labor Committee hearing this week examined the policies and priorities of the U.S. Department of Education. It was the first oversight hearing for Secretary DeVos to testify before the Committee since Democrats regained control of the House. While members asked questions on a variety of topics ranging from student loan debt to affirmative action to the rights of transgender students, many focused on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

In one heated exchange, Representative Jahana Hayes from Connecticut pressed Secretary DeVos about an Education Department memo she obtained citing that the Secretary does have sufficient authority to block states from using ESSA Title IV funds to buy guns for schools. Our viewers may recall that funding for Title IV, or the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, was hotly debated last year when Secretary DeVos said she did not have the power to block states from using Title IV funds to purchase firearms. The memo Representative Hayes presented, however, stated exactly the opposite.

While the exchange between Representative Gregorio Sablan from the Northern Mariana Islands and Secretary DeVos may not have received as much attention, Representative Sablan raised a very important issue regarding the Department’s approval of state ESSA plans that do not consider the performance of historically underserved students…

Read the full article  in Alliance for Excellent Education
Podcast: Every Student Succeeds Act

Podcast: Every Student Succeeds Act

Posted on Apr 29 2017 – 4:27pm by Seattle Medium


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Rhythm & News interview with Dr. Elizabeth Primas, Program Manager for the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) initiative, about ESSA and its impact on our community. Interview by Chris B. Bennett.



Highlights from Digital Learning Day 2017

Highlights from Digital Learning Day 2017

Thousands of educators and students across the country demonstrated how technology can improve student learning as part of the sixth annual national Digital Learning Day on February 23, 2017.

Digital Learning Day (DLDay) provides a powerful venue for education leaders to highlight great teaching practice and showcase innovative teachers, leaders, and instructional technology programs that are improving student outcomes. DLDay is not just about technology, it’s about learning and enhancing the role of the teacher in America’s classrooms.

This year, nearly 2,000 local celebrations decorated the Digital Learning Day map, providing a window into how education technology is incorporated into daily student learning. Students collaborated on projects, engaged with each other and their devices to solve problems, invented songs and videos, and discovered new worlds and communities all within the walls of their classrooms.

Click on the map above to view details on local Digital Learning Day events.

Click on the map above to view details on local Digital Learning Day events.

If you missed out on the DLDay action, fear not, Twitter was ablaze with photos and videos of students in action. We’ve highlighted several activities on the @OfficialDLDay Twitter feed. You can also check out the Storify below to get a glimpse of DLDay highlights and check out #DLDay on Twitter.

As part of the DLDay celebrations, the Alliance hosted a webinar on the value of a connected classroom, providing important and practical information for superintendents, principals, and teachers. During the webinar, panelists discussed the challenges and solutions to building out a school district’s technology infrastructure to provide high-speed internet connections, including how to take advantage of the federal Lifeline and E-rate programs.

Christian Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Maryland, explained that access to the internet is “the only way to level the playing field” for students. “The internet is as vital as having running water in your home,” said Johnson.

But access is not enough unless it is accompanied by a plan. Harrison Goodwin, EdD, superintendent of Chesterfield County Schools, a rural South Carolina district, discussed the importance of having a strategic plan for technology in place during the broadcast. “Technology is another tool we must master and then use to enhance instruction,” he said.

In the webinar, Alliance President and former Governor of West Virginia Bob Wise shared some thoughts on the digital learning landscape in schools.

“When the Alliance started Digital Learning Day in 2012, the idea of technology in the classroom was just beginning to gain ground. While there were a handful of digital innovators in many schools and districts, there were far more that asked students to check their devices at the classroom door or power them down when they got to their seats,” said Wise.

“Today, the situation is reversed. Increasingly, the norm for schools is to provide students with devices and explore ways to power up and personalize student learning,” said Wise. “Although we celebrate Digital Learning Day, we want every day to be a digital learning day for our nation’s students.”

Watch the webinar video below.

How Changes to Federal Education Law Can Drive College and Career Readiness in Low-Performing Schools

How Changes to Federal Education Law Can Drive College and Career Readiness in Low-Performing Schools

By Laura Jimenez, Director, Standards and Accountability, Center for American Progress
(article source: The Hunt Institute)

The Every Student Succeeds Acap1ct (ESSA) passed in 2015, ending the reign of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the nation’s major K-12 education law. ESSA makes key changes in education policy that, in tandem, allow states to transform failing schools into pillars of learning.

With the first regulations governing NCLB’s turnaround program, called “school improvement grants” (SIG), schools receiving funds under Title I of NCLB failing to meet any state performance targets for six consecutive years could receive any amount of additional improvement funds. Schools implemented specific remedies and received a small portion of SIG funds to do so. Few of the 5,000 failing schools improved by 2008.

The later 2009 SIG regulations modified SIG drastically. States granted schools funds directly to implement one of four specific “turnaround models.” Eligible schools performed in the bottom five percent of those receiving federal funds. Schools could receive anywhere from $50,000 to $2 million annually for three years.

The new law eliminates this program. Instead, states are required to set aside at least seven percent of ESSA’s Title I funds. States grant these funds to districts with two types of low-performing schools, now making districts directly responsible for turnaround efforts. Funding amounts also vary, from $50,000 to $500,000 annually. Districts support schools in implementing “evidence-based” interventions that also fit the school’s needs.

These changes align with broader changes under ESSA that, viewed collectively, guide states to develop robust systems of education that prepare students for college and careers. States must implement academic standards that align with credit-bearing coursework and relevant technical education standards. States classify school performance according to multiple measures that offer a broader view of school and student success, including non-academic measures. Finally, states can use funds to build the capacity of teachers to implement supports known to improve student outcomes.

These requirements also apply to low-performing schools.

Since states must have a more comprehensive turnaround approach, they would proceed most purposefully if they develop consensus on two things before designing their turnaround strategy.

The first is developing a measurable definition of college and career ready. What knowledge, skills, and abilities ensure students are ready for the postsecondary pathway of their choice?

Students need academic content on a range of subjects, including a state’s technical education standards. They also need to gain skills that help them become lifelong learners. Research lists a gamut of these types of skills. In addition, students need exposure and access to the range of postsecondary education pathways that lead to in-demand and high-growth careers.

The second consideration is developing a definition of the types of teaching and learning that produce college and career readiness for students. What knowledge, skills and abilities do teachers need in order to help students reach college and career readiness? Here, states or districts may pursue strategies like deeper learning; use competency-based education to measure student mastery instead of classroom seat time; and/or use professional learning communities to allow teachers to use collective expertise to grow their capacity to use these techniques.

Other state-level approaches to turnaround can promote or hinder schools from taking on these strategies.

A recent Center for American Progress (CAP) report identifies seven tenets for states to consider when fostering successful turnaround at the local level. These considerations range from funding and authority strategies to accountability and local capacity building. Applying these tenets sets the conditions for failing schools to thrive.

A Tough Balancing Act: Considerations for State Testing Plans

A Tough Balancing Act: Considerations for State Testing Plans

By Nancy Doorey, Nancy Doorey Educational Consulting
(Article source: The Hunt Institute)

State state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are due by September 18, 2017, although the timelines could be altered by the new administration. Perhaps the most controversial section of those plans is the one that addresses testing and accountability systems. In nearly every state, leaders hear from some who want fewer, shorter tests, from others who want tests that emphasize the types of complex skills needed in higher education and the workplace, and others who just want the cost reduced. How can state leaders develop systems that will have enough public support to remain in place? Exploring the following questions and options may help.

  • Which are the skills and knowledge that are essential to assess at each grade level? Even though a state has adopted content standards, it’s worth taking time to to be clear about what you, as a state, value enough to include in the assessments. Some of the skills that received much greater emphasis within the current generation of standards, due to the documented need for them in postsecondary training and education programs, are more expensive and time-consuming to assess. These include competencies such as building knowledge using content-rich, non-fiction texts; the writing of a well-defended claim that uses evidence drawn from multiple sources; and the selection and application of multiple mathematical skills and procedures to solve a complex problem. Are they important enough to include in your testing program?
  • How will you strike an informed balance between test quality, testing time, and cost? Generally speaking, the complex skills that higher education faculty and employers cite as currently being inadequately developed in K-12 systems are also more costly to assess than the “basics” and require more testing time. A completely custom state assessment that measures all of these critical skills is likely too expensive for any state to deploy. But several options exist to help states strike a balance:
    • Pooled buying power through multi-state consortia and shared tests: Whether one of the consortia that received federal funds or another, it makes a lot of sense to avoid duplication of costs. After all, the large majority of reading, writing and math skills that states want to assess are the same.
    • Customized tests that include some licensed items: Fortunately, both PARCC and Smarter Balanced now allow states to license the use of tests or sets of items within a customized state test. For expensive-to-measure skills that might otherwise have to be dropped from the assessments due to cost, this option is helpful.
    • De-couple some pieces from the high-stakes accountability system: A big driver of testing cost is the need to have legally defensible results at the individual student level. States could choose to test and report some of the expensive-to-measure skills at the school, district or state level. For example, if a state decides it simply can’t afford to test writing to sources in a quality way within the main state assessment at each grade level, the state could include, at some or all levels, writing tasks that are then scored by teachers (perhaps using one of the consortia’s electronic scoring platforms with continuous monitoring of consistency in scoring), and report the results at the school level. Scores could even be included within course grades, as appropriate. This type of approach has been used by states in the past as a way to clearly signal what is important in instruction and to provide meaningful data to taxpayers about the performance of schools while reducing costs.
    • Consider an off-the-shelf test from a vendor. The evaluations by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) of several current-generation tests revealed significant differences in the strengths and weaknesses of each. Some simply failed to measure some of the high-priority skills within college- and career-readiness standards. If considering an off-the-shelf test, states should carefully review whether or not their “critical skills” are tested in meaningful ways, and may need to augment it.

Testing will almost certainly continue to be a lightening rod. But taking the time to gain consensus on what is worth assessing and how best to bamailto:nancy.doorey@gmail.comlance test quality, testing time, and cost may help states then stay the course.

Reach Nancy Doorey at