State Advocacy

New Mexico Taking Accountability from Hammer to Flashlight

New Mexico Taking Accountability from Hammer to Flashlight
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New Mexico Taking Accountability from Hammer to Flashlight

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, is not often thought of as an education leader in the United States. Leaders in the state are trying to change that.

“There is probably not a single reform here in the state of New Mexico that is not completely dependent on good data, and using that data to make a difference,” says New Mexico Secretary of Education, Hanna Skandera. By placing a focus on service and not just compliance, New Mexico has been able to use a recently adopted accountability system to foster data-driven conversations between the state and districts.

A-F Grading: More Than Mere Accountability in New Mexico

Like all states, New Mexico is responsible for holding its schools and districts accountable for student performance. In 2011 the state passed legislation implementing a new A–F grading system for its schools. The US Department of Education granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements which provided the state flexibility to approach measuring school progress in new ways. The school grading system focuses on growth—rather than mere proficiency—and helps districts ensure that they are focusing on growing every child, not just those who are under-performing, or the so called “bubble kids.”

Rather than using the new accountability system as hammer, the New Mexico Public Education Department is using it as the foundation for a support-based relationship between the state and districts. When districts receive low marks, such as a D or an F, the state doesn’t merely deem that school or district as failing. Rather it works with leaders to develop a strategic plan for improvement and supports the district in meeting its goals.

Using Data Tools to Make Change

WebEPSS, an online tool that the state already had in place to support monitoring and planning activities, helps districts and the state easily access district goals, plans, and supporting documents as districts work toward improving outcomes for all students. Additionally, Public Education Department (PED) staff has been traveling around the state, providing training for districts on the grading system, the WebEPSS, and data protocols to help districts use information in new ways to improve outcomes for kids.

Schools across the state have already begun to see changes in their student performance by implementing the new data protocols with help from the state. But as Leighann Lenti, deputy secretary for Policy and Programs at PED points out, the schools that are making tremendous growth are not ready to celebrate quite yet. “When we said: ‘That’s amazing growth!’ They said: ‘You’re right but we can do better.’”

Looking Forward

Leaders in New Mexico are optimistic that when the next state school grades are released, they will have seen change for the positive in the number of students who are experiencing growth and the number of schools that have improved their letter grade. In the meantime a critical change has already happened. Tough conversations between the state and districts are happening and all are based on data.