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Skandera has big goals set for state education

Education secretary outlines efforts to support educators, students and families while instituting goals for schools statewide

Joshua Kellogg
jkellogg@daily-times.com
New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera talks to educators about changes in the state's education plan on Monday at Hermosa Middle School in Farmington.
  • Hannah Skandera in midst of second tour of cities across the state.
  • The education plan has set a goal to have more than 50 percent of students be proficient in math and English by 2020.
  • Bloomfield superintendent Kim Mizell said some of the goals proposed will be challenging for districts.

FARMINGTON — State Education Secretary Hanna Skandera believes information gathered from a statewide tour she is conducting could help increase improve test scores and increase the high school graduation rate in New Mexico.

Skandera recently started an eight-city tour, revisiting places she stopped at during her "New Mexico Rising" tour last fall to gather input on the state's federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

New Mexico's ESSA plan was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on April 3 as part of an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the national education law.

During an interview at The Daily Times office and a meeting in the Hermosa Middle School cafeteria on Monday, Skandera outlined efforts to support educators, students and families while instituting goals for schools statewide to aim for.

Skandera acknowledged that the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam have led to a decline in student proficiency rates in every grade.

"Our goal is to close the gaps," Skandera said in an interview. "Proficiencies rates dropped pretty exponentially when we shifted to higher expectations, and we are slowing closing that gap."

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One figure Skandera cites is the improvement of students in 19 of the 21 tested areas for English, math and science on the PARCC exam for for the 2015-2016 school year.

Students who met or exceeded proficiency in English increased 1.3 percentage points from 26.4 percent in the 2014-2015 school year to 27.7 percent for 2015-2016, according to New Mexico Public Education Department data.

The figure increased 2.5 percentage points for students who met or exceed proficiency on the math exam, rising from 17.4 percent to 19.9 percent.

New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera meets with local school officials  Monday at Hermosa Middle School in Farmington.

In the state education department's plan, Skandera is aiming for more than 50 percent of students statewide be proficient in math and English by 2020.

The department also wants more than 80 percent of students to graduate high school by that date. The state's high school graduation rate for 2016 was 71 percent, up about 8 percentage points since 2011, according to state education data.

Kim Mizell, superintendent for Bloomfield schools, said she appreciate Skandera making the effort to visit stakeholders statewide and added some of the goals proposed will be challenging for districts.

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"When you look at where we are in proficiency rates and what they set, it's a big jump," Mizell said in a telephone interview Friday.

Mizell was one of 15 to 20 people who attended the meeting Monday at which Skandera gave a presentation on changes and new goals for education in New Mexico. Skandera highlighted changes to the state's teacher evaluation system, reductions in the time students spend on testing and nearly 20 initiatives launched in the last year to support educators.

The number of "grace days" — personal or sick days that don’t affect a teacher's evaluation score — was recently increased from three to six days before teachers are penalized. Critics of the New Mexico's system say other states don't penalize teachers for taking the sick days they are allocated. The attendance portion counts for 5 percent of a teacher's total evaluation score.

Skandera said during the interview that 47 percent of New Mexico teachers were out of the classroom 10 days or more in 2012, citing data from the U.S. Department of Education. She added that in 2016, the figure dropped to 12 percent, which resulted in $3.6 million in savings.

For Mizell, she said anything that adjusts the teacher evaluation is welcome, but it is very challenging for teachers to not take days off.

"They get sick," Mizell said. "They don't need to feel bad about getting sick."

Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter, left, and Farmington Municipal Schools District Deputy Superintendent Phil Valdez listen to a presentation by New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera Monday at Hermosa Middle School in Farmington.

A change to teacher evaluations allows more input from classroom observers who are in the best position to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Measures of student achievement, which had been as much as 50 percent of a teacher's rating, have been reduced to 35 percent.

Teachers at Monday's meeting asked Skandera questions on subjects that included the PARCC exam, state funding and the sick leave change.

Skandera also discussed creating new parent, student and teacher advisory boards so residents statewide can have a line of communication with the state education department.

Nearly 1,000 teachers are expected for the second Teacher Summit this year, an increase from about 300 teachers for the first summit last year.

Jessica Carlisle, the head of the gifted department at Farmington High School, said after the meeting it was nice that Skandera acknowledged communication from the state education department wasn't always clear.

Carlisle added she appreciated efforts by department officials to speak directly to and work with teachers.

"It's really nice to have that platform to ask that question," Carlisle said.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.