by Andrea Thomas│ Thursday, August 23rd 2018
My two boys, ages 12 and 9, are my top priority. I have been actively and attentively helping them to learn the skills that will allow them to navigate their world since the day they were born. My goal is that they learn to be accountable for their educational choices, and to advocate for their individual needs. Moreover, it is extremely important that, regardless of our location, their educational experience provides for these needs.
Thankfully, New Mexico has a school grading system that raises the bar for academic proficiency and growth. In 2011, The New Mexico Department of Education adopted an “A” through “F” grading system for schools. To determine a final grade, the state evaluates each school based on student growth and overall performance.
Returning Home to Upsetting News
In 2014 I returned to Shiprock to begin my career in the community where I was raised. My hope was that my boys would be able to attend a school with peers they could identify with culturally, and within the intimate social support system that this community provides. It was equally important, however, that they have access to quality education that gauges success according to the same measures applied to students across the state and country.
When they started school, Mesa Elementary had a grade of “F,” Tse’Bit’Ai Middle School had a “D” and Shiprock High School had a “C.”
This was concerning, and although my sons were in the elementary school, they would eventually be entering the doors of the middle and high schools. I believe the school grading system ensures accountability within the schools, especially for students with individual academic needs as different as those of my boys. In the “conventional” system of education one of my sons has thrived and seems perfectly suited to this approach while the other, equal in potential and curiosity, has struggled.
My oldest fits the model of students who can successfully navigate the public education system, including standardized testing. From an early age he’s talked endlessly about college and his career path and has been set on preparing himself academically.
Throughout elementary (third, fourth, fifth grades) he earned a Level 5 on English language arts (ELA) and math PARCC tests. Last school year was his first year at Tse’Bit’Ai Middle School, which at the time was on its third consecutive “F.” In June, he received his sixth-grade PARCC scores and was ecstatic; he earned a Level 5 in both ELA and math.
A Tale of Two Kids
My youngest son is quite a different learner. The traditional classroom systems are a challenge for him on a daily basis. Therefore, I advocate for his need of a more flexible and attuned approach.
For students like him, it is imperative to provide this flexibility and responsiveness. In previous years I received negative feedback about his behavior and lack of engagement in the classroom.
Last school year as a third-grader we worked collaboratively with his teacher and school to improve his learning environment so he had opportunities to be successful, and to grow in meaningful, yet measurable, ways. In June he received his first PARCC scores, a Level 4 in ELA and Level 5 in math. I’m confident that school grades hold teachers and school leaders accountable for meeting the individual needs of diverse learners.
When school grades were released last Friday I was delighted to hear that Mesa Elementary’s school grade improved to a “B.” Tse’Bit’Ai Middle School increased to a “D.” Shiprock High School moved up to a “B.”
As a mother I see the value of the School Grading Report Card. Some may argue that it does not fully represent the schools because it doesn’t take into account unique factors that students face in their various communities. But it offers the accountability that is sorely needed in our public education system to help all students regardless of their facility with, or struggles within, conventional learning systems.
All students across New Mexico deserve access to quality education and the opportunity to succeed in measurable ways according to standards which will hopefully someday make them competitive and productive not just locally but across the state, country and the world.
Andrea Thomas - Elementary Teacher in Shiprock, NM
Andrea Thomas is a mother of two boys and a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Mesa Elementary in Central Consolidated Schools. We recently sat down for a "Coffee Break" for a in-depth look at her family and life as an educator.