The truth is that Albuquerque supports our schools (despite a chronic inability to make improvements at scale) but doubt the ability of current leadership to make changes and get dollars to teachers and classrooms.Read More
Often when education is discussed or debated, vital and necessary voices are left out: us teachers. Who better to provide perspective on schools than those of us working with students every day? Who better to speak about teacher pay, class sizes, educational spending, and many other topics than those of us who personally grapple with these issues?
It seems as though some policy makers want teachers to use their voice, but only while we are in the classroom. I’ve seen first-hand that those days are over and the time for direct teacher voice has arrived.Read More
The best schools tell a different story; they inspire self-confidence instead of self-doubt. With so many New Mexico students coming from backgrounds similar to my own, we must redefine what we think is possible and never waver from those high expectations.Read More
By Joyce Wilson│Wednesday, June 6th, 2018
Side "hustles" have become more popular as people realize they can easily make a little extra money to make ends meet or save away. You may have heard of the sharing economy, which allows you to make money doing things like driving for a ride-sharing service or renting out your home to tourists. These types of opportunities have grown exponentially over the past decade.
Many teachers are in a unique position for side gigs because of summer vacation, which leaves them with some rare extra time. Teachers also tend to be masters of multi-tasking, often working on many things at once. Money aside, pursuing interests outside of the classroom provides a great creative and intellectual outlet.
A side gig doesn’t have to be all about the sharing economy though. There are plenty of good-paying gigs out there that allow teachers to work for themselves and set their own hours. You might even incorporate a hobby you love into your new job, such as making jewelry or selling vintage clothing in an online shop. A helpful aspect about these part-time gigs is that you can keep them all year if you decide to.
Keep reading to find out more about side gigs that can work this summer, or any time of the year.
Become A Tutor
Tutoring is often a natural transition for teachers during summer months. Talk to parents of your students and let them know you’re available for tutoring sessions. You can even spread the word on social media. This is the kind of side hustle that permits you to set your own hours, and you may be able to do it from the comfort of your own home in some cases. Just make sure you keep your lesson plans transparent and keep communication open with your clients.
Be A Tour Guide
Museums, historical locations, and cities with high tourism rates are great places to find a summer gig that could turn into a year-round side job if you enjoy it. Put all your knowledge to good use as a tour guide, which will often allow for flexible hours and seasonal work. Just be prepared to be on your feet for several hours at a time.
Teach English Online
There are several online tutoring and teaching jobs that can help you earn quite a bit of extra cash over the summer, including teaching English as a second language. The great aspect of this job is that you can do it from home while you’re in sweats. Visit here for more information.
Freelance and Contract Work
Many teachers make great writers; not only because they’re knowledgeable about so many subjects, but because they have so many great stories to tell! If you have a flair for writing and have something to say, consider doing some freelance work.
There are plenty of blogs and online companies who are willing to pay good money for your words. Just watch out for scams and companies that promise to make you thousands of dollars in a week. Freelancing won’t make you rich, but it can certainly help pay the bills. You can also start a blog of your own, although monetizing it can take a while.
For teachers serious about making money outside the classroom, it’s important to remember to create an ideal workspace that can help you stay on-task. An uncluttered desk in a room free of distractions can be your best friend. Check out these great tips on how to make a workspace that boosts your productivity.
Finding the right side job for you can take a little time, so try to be patient. Keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for you. A side gig should be both fulfilling and worth your time in order to become a success.
With a little research and a good plan, you can find a side hustle you enjoy and that will sustain you all year round.
Joyce Wilson - Retired Teacher and Co-Founder of TeacherSpark.org
Joyce is a retired teacher with decades of experience. Today, she is a proud grandma and mentor to teachers in her local public school system. She and a fellow retired teacher created TeacherSpark.org to share creative ideas and practical resources for the classroom.
By Aja Currey│Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018
I clearly remember feeling nervous and excited my first day as a student teacher. It was the end of my teacher prep program and I knew I had just one semester to figure out how to do the job of teaching.
Still, I didn’t know if I was prepared enough to be the teacher I knew I wanted to be.
Eight years later, I know the reality is that I’ve spent this entire time preparing. Each year, I seek to become better for the next. I now know I was not truly prepared for the classroom at the end of my preparation program - and that I’m not alone in that feeling.
My first year, similarly to that of the many other teachers I know, was a sink-or-swim experience.
As a special education teacher, I realized quickly that the extra time I spent learning about different disabilities in my program didn’t touch on the reality I would face in my classroom. I wasn’t prepared to work with my nonverbal students with autism, or to manage the more severe behavioral problems such as when my students would kick and punch.
I’m lucky I had an excellent mentor who taught me to manage students in a variety of different ways. I also had support from a good school director and seasoned teachers. Other new teachers are not so lucky.
If we want our students to continue to grow and make progress every year - academically, socially, and emotionally - we need teachers who are ready for the challenge. We lose many teachers before they ever get the opportunity to feel comfortable in the classroom because they are unprepared.
This is a national problem: Forty to 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years, including includes the 9.5 percent that leave before their first year is over. It took me until my sixth year to feel truly ready, but almost half of new teachers don’t wait that long.
I see a number of things we can do to prepare new teachers to be ready on day one.
One priority should be to update our teacher training programs with expanded classroom time. Programs must provide new teachers with hands-on experience to best meet the needs of today’s students. This first-hand experience must include expanded student teaching time, more guided time with classroom management in a real classroom, and supervised lesson planning/delivery early in the program.
We must also understand which teacher preparation programs are doing well - and which aren’t.
Soon, the Public Education Department will release the first ever Educator Preparation Program report cards for New Mexico. The goal is to maintain and monitor standards for our universities.
The report cards aim to provide New Mexico’s teacher preparation programs the opportunity to grow and improve in order to best meet the needs of up-and-coming teachers. This would have helped me and my students tremendously when I entered the profession nearly a decade ago.
We need far more collaboration between all the moving parts that train and create our teachers.
Our universities, local school districts, and state education department should continue to work together. Universities and local school districts need to create model learning schools or classrooms together, with the support of great teachers. And our state education department should partner with professors at universities to create learning experiences for college students that are relevant to what today's students need.
I hope to see more excited student teachers ready to make a difference in our classrooms as soon as they graduate. New Mexico’s students and teachers deserve it.
Aja Currey - Special Education Teacher in West Las Vegas, NM
Aja Currey is the head special education teacher for 1st thru 8th grades at Rio Gallinas Charter School for Ecology and the Arts in West Las Vegas Schools. She is a Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellow.
by Elizabeth Long│Friday, May 4th, 2018
A version of this post originally appeared at Teach Reach NM and is republished here with permission.
Recently, there's been a lot of talk about how to improve schools—and improving instruction should be at the top of the list. Our teacher preparation programs have a solemn responsibility to produce quality teachers who deliver student achievement.
Take my story, for example. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since first grade. Yet, after my first year of teaching, I was ready to give up on this dream I had as a little girl. It was devastating. I had not been adequately prepared.
Luckily, I chose to stay in the classroom and found school resources to push myself to my full potential. In fact, most recently I earned an “Exemplary” rating as a middle school teacher in Gallup, a school that has gone from a D to a B over the past three years. Unfortunately, not every teacher has access to the resources I had, nor the resolve to keep pushing internally. And that is how New Mexico continues to lose potentially life-changing teachers.
The reality is this: when teacher preparation programs improve across New Mexico then the quality of teaching, and thus the quality of education across the state, will improve as well.
There is a positive trickle down effect when teachers enter the classroom “Day One Ready”.
So, what does “Day One Ready” mean exactly?
“Day One Ready” means that teachers are not surprised by, but rather prepared for, what they walk into on that first day in their classroom. It is not about perfection, but rather about teachers who are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of teaching our students.
“Day One Ready” teachers are confident that the experiences in their teacher preparation program align with their upcoming classroom experience. As teachers, we must accept personal responsibility for our craft, and for our students’ learning. And this mindset is developed largely via our training.
The summer after my first (tough) year of teaching, I went back to the basics. I ordered Harry Wong’s classic books about classroom management, and read his words as scripture. One may ask, didn’t I do this in my training program?
The answer is “sort of” - I read many famous teaching texts, but often wasn’t exposed to the application side of these theories. Without a classroom of my own, or a classroom to visualize myself in, it was hard to imagine how to put these theories into action. I had some great courses along the way, but the problem is often cohesion and my classes were, to be honest, hit or miss.
I was also shocked by how inadequately I was prepared for the student diversity we find across The Land of Enchantment. Many universities give a “cookie-cutter” view of English Learners (ELs) and culturally relevant teaching with limited connection to New Mexico’s specific students and history.
Our students have unique needs, and these must be addressed in teacher preparation programs. Further, we must celebrate student diversity while never lowering the bar for any student, regardless of background.
This wasn’t always the message I received.
The purpose of sharing my thoughts and experiences is not to demonize any specific program. Rather, as I have mentored over the years, I have seen many new, promising teachers come and go. In my experience, teacher preparation program experiences correlate with whether teachers stay in the profession and thrive, endure or exit.
It’s common sense to me that our teacher preparation programs should be held accountable, increase the quality and duration of student teaching experiences, and align programs more closely with state and district expectations.
We know that, more than anything else at the school site, teacher quality is causal to student success. Certainly teacher preparation is the very foundation of that concept.
I am thankful I remained teaching. Even with all the challenges, teaching is one of the most rewarding professions out there. And I have my students’ academic growth and their changed life trajectories to show for it, which is everything to me.
As I look back, I wish I would have been better trained to be more successful on day one, rather than questioning what has become my life’s passion. Thankfully, I stuck around, but so many new teachers don’t. There’s no excuse for that.
Elizabeth Long - Middle School Teacher in Gallup, NM
Elizabeth Long is finishing up her 7th year of teaching. She is originally from Ohio, and her family moved to the Navajo Reservation when she was sixteen. Not only is she a passionate teacher, she also enjoys photography, nature, traveling, and spending time with her family and dogs.
by Kayli Laney│Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018
My students just finished our championship week—and I don’t mean for athletics.
This marks the second, and final, week of annual PARCC testing at our rural high school in Reserve, New Mexico. For me, that means that after roughly a dozen hours of test administration—or about two days of our 180 school days—all of my students have conquered their English Language Arts (ELA) PARCC for the year.
I teach freshmen-senior courses, including Advanced Placement. At my school we like to win, and I enjoy coaching my students to victory.
Championship week can be a stressful time for students and teachers. We practice, and we prepare physically and mentally, but we still get butterflies before the big game. That’s how it should be for something important. We want to do our best and show what we’ve learned.
Last week was a chance for my students to show off their hard work. All year long they studied big questions such as, “What is the relationship between censorship and war?” and “What is the American Dream and in what ways is it still relevant?” This has been an awesome “season."
That’s why suggestions of scrapping our state’s assessment system without an alternative already in place —one that satisfies the mandates of federal law—make me incredibly nervous. That some of our state’s leaders, from both political sides, continue to flirt with that idea from the sidelines during championship week disheartens me.
This is a fight for our future, not the least because we’re competing with the quality education that my students’ counterparts in other schools, districts, and states already receive.
No assessment is perfect, and we may need to continue the search for an assessment that best fits the needs of New Mexican students, but PARCC provides teachers like me with valuable insights to better prepare my students for the future and improve my instructional practice. While proficiency-based standards and assessment hold promise, those are largely in piloting mode and not ready to scale up yet.
Nor can we afford to take an indefinite break from collecting student data or holding teachers accountable for providing students with the education they deserve while we search for a replacement. Frustratingly, an air of negativity still surrounds student data, and not just for PARCC. The same held true for the Standards Based Assessment (SBA).
The NMTEACH teacher evaluation system has been deemed punitive by some because it incorporates student data as 35 percent of the calculation. Student data, even when it reveals areas for improvement, does not carry a negative connotation for me. Instead, I view data as a tool that highlights my development and my shared responsibility with my students.
Of course, no data paints the full picture of my efforts or the progress my students make, but assessments are an opportunity to find out what we’ve done well and what we can do better.
I know each of my students has the capacity to change the world. They are innovators, creatives, and activists. They leave my classroom and go into medicine, agriculture, politics, mechanics, business, and, yes, education. My students are much more than numbers, but it is difficult to get to any destination when we don’t know where we are starting, or how fast we’re going.
I cannot afford to lose time guessing what my students need. I want my students to leave school ready to use their talents and knowledge to be our future leaders. In order for that to happen, I need to make smart instructional choices. I need to capitalize on the brief time I have with them. Scrapping our assessment system, jeopardizing funding, and altering our ESSA plan helps none of these.
I ask our state leaders to not press reset on the progress we’ve made. We have the talent to go all the way, and we’re up for the challenge. My team and I are already preparing for next year’s championship week.
Kayli Laney - Teacher in Reserve, NM
Kayli teaches 9th through 11th grade English and AP Language and Composition at Reserve High School, the same school from which she graduated. Kayli serves as a State Ambassador for the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network and is a Teach Plus Policy Fellow.
by Amy Linn│ Monday, April 22nd, 2018
GAMERCO — Jamie Eddy, 24, arrives early at the house on Chino Street on the edge of the Navajo Nation and picks the spot where she’ll spend the day: at a foldout table in a foldout chair, with a 974-page GED study guide in front of her.
She opens her notebook and her 6-year-old son grins out from a photo pasted on the inside. “I’m here for him,” says Eddy, one of 20 students to sign up for the free prep course. “I want to be a good role model for my son and for my family.”
It’s a common sentiment at the New Life Learning Center, an otherwise uncommon place. The aging wood-frame house in Gamerco, north of Gallup, is one of the few nonprofits of its kind on or near the Navajo Nation, a 27,000-square-mile swath of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.
The teacher and executive director, Benson Ndolo, 58, is a native Kenyan with a lilting accent and boundless optimism. He may be the only East African GED teacher in state history. Ndolo has spent more than 10 years working in Navajo communities, helping people get a “general education” (GED) high school diploma and running ESL classes, youth groups and other programs.
He’s also a pastor: On Sundays he preaches to a small group of regulars who sing spirituals in Navajo, English, Spanish and Swahili.
Ndolo’s students, most of them Navajo, have grown up under the most difficult circumstances. Up to 40 percent of Navajo households — as many as 54,000 people — have no running water, federal reports say. They have no safe drinkable water from a tap; no clean water to wash hands, cook food, shower or wash clothes.
Some students grew up sleeping on blankets on the floor, in ramshackle houses shared with 13 or more relatives. Many people drive for miles to haul water; some get their supply from unregulated wells or livestock tanks that can be contaminated with fecal matter, bacteria, viruses, uranium or arsenic.
A high school equivalency diploma represents a milestone for any graduate. But at the house in Gamerco, students say it represents something much larger. They want their GED to help their children lead better lives and lift the entire family.
That’s Ndolo’s goal, as well. “Come on, guys,’ he exhorts. “Don’t think, ‘Oh no, I’m from the rez, I can’t do it, I’m just from Gamerco.’ No! Don’t think inside Gamerco. Be thinking outside. Think big!”
Eddy, who dropped out of ninth grade when she became pregnant, enrolled in part to honor the memory of her mother, who died recently of alcohol-related causes. “I miss her so much,” she says. “My being here would make her happy.”
She also is here to support her brother Nathaniel. On a recent day he comes in late, his shoulders hunched in exhaustion, face hidden in a gray hoodie. He occasionally jots answers to Ndolo’s grammar questions on a crumpled piece of paper, but he never volunteers an answer.
“I haven’t been the same since my mom died,” Nathaniel, 18, says, when pressed. “I don’t feel like talking.”
It’s not easy for anyone to sit on a hard chair from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. three days a week for months, driving up to 30 miles to stare at reflexive pronouns. It’s especially hard for those who live on the Navajo Nation. Of its 14,220 miles of roadways, more than 75 percent are unpaved dirt, rock and washboard, with potholes that could swallow a wheel. Rain and snow can turn them into gumbo.
Few of the students can afford cars. They take buses, beg rides or sometimes hitchhike to the class in Gamerco. Most of them are parents who have to arrange childcare. People with jobs sacrifice their work hours to show up.
“Benson is a real nice man. He makes you feel comfortable,” offers Gerold Yazzie, 40, a contractor from Window Rock, 25 miles north.
“It’s inspiring to be here,” says Shalylah Carmona, 19. “It feels like home.”
‘We need to be proud’
In the traditional sense, home on the Navajo Nation is the ancestral land within the boundaries of the four sacred mountains. It is a 16-million-acre palette of high plains and plateaus, mesas and desert, piñon and juniper. The reservation is the largest in the country — the size of West Virginia, but with only 170,000 residents.
The Diné (“the people,” in Navajo) were forced by the U.S. military to leave their homeland on the Long Walk, a 300-mile march and subsequent internment that killed thousands. An 1868 treaty allowed them to return home. But the pact didn’t prevent U.S. government policies from shattering families, culture, tradition, language, health, the environment and the economy.
The Navajo Nation today has some of the country’s highest rates of child poverty, joblessness, alcohol-related deaths, youth suicide and diabetes. High school dropout rates are as high as 40 percent.
The grim statistics are no secret. The outside world constantly publicizes the tragic stories, leaving out the Navajo history of strength and perseverance. Children grow up feeling hopeless under the barrage.
“It’s important to build on the strengths and resilience all around us,” says Gloria Begay, 67, a Navajo educator, health advocate and community activist of 40 years. “We need to be proud of who we are, proud to be here, proud to be survivors. It’s surviving that makes us stronger.”
Begay knows about perseverance. In the 1980s she was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. She worked in Washington, D.C, directing Indian education programs in the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies. She traveled to China to attend the United Nations World Conference on Women. In 2014, with her help, the Navajo Nation passed a tax on junk food, the first of its kind in the country.
Today, she’s leading a grassroots effort to create board games that teach children the Navajo language, culture, values and traditions. She’s part of the Diné Food Sovereignty Alliance, campaigning to bring healthy, traditional foods back to the reservation.
But even for Begay, staying positive isn’t always possible.
“People ask why the diabetes rate here is so high? It’s not just about the food,” she says on a recent day. “We have the highest rates of stress and worry. All of us, every Navajo, is affected by at least one of these things: lack of water, food, jobs, education, paved roads, electricity or a home.”
One day this winter, she ran into an old friend – a former newspaper reporter — at the Gallup public library. “He asked me to drive him home,” she says. “He was living in a 10-by-5 storage unit.
“I tell people in government about things like this and they can’t believe it. I say to them, ‘You guys are all bug-eyed at the statistics about no water and no electricity? Why don’t I take you home and you can see for yourself? Come on down the dirt roads with us and see it!”
Do they come?
‘This is America?’
If they did come, this is what they would see:
As many as 15,000 Navajo homes — roughly 30 percent of the total — have no electricity.
A recent article in the Navajo-Hopi Observer described how an 88-year-old woman turned on a lightbulb in her kitchen for the first time — in 2017. “Energy poverty” — the federal government’s name for no electricity — hurts children most. Mothers without lights don’t read to their children at bedtime; kids fall behind in school because they can’t do homework after nightfall. No phone service means parents can’t call an ambulance, fire department or police. Families lack electricity to keep warm.
They all too often also lack water. Many families here live on fewer than 10 gallons a day, a 10th of what the average American family uses. The lack of safe water has some of the same consequences as in Sub-Saharan Africa, including a high rate of severe diarrhea, a dangerous illness for children younger than 5.
Ndolo, who arrived in the U.S. in 2000, was shocked when he first set his eyes on Indian Country. “I saw dirt roads and no water on the Navajo reservation. It looked just like parts of my own country. And I thought, ‘This is America?’”
Breaking the cycle
Lisa Lee, who dropped out of ninth grade, arrives at the New Life Learning Center one recent day with her two youngest sons, age 2 and 3, and her 16-year-old niece in tow.
Lee, 38, knows the house well. It’s where she got her GED two years ago. Back then, she was so shy she was barely able to speak. Ndolo kept pushing her. “He always wanted me to speak out,” she says. “And it worked. Now I can speak in front of a whole church full of people.”
On this particular day, she’s here to sign her niece up for a GED course. Like Lee, the girl dropped out of high school and got caught up in drugs.
Lee has taken her under her wing and welcomed her into the tidy, three-bedroom tract house she shares with her husband, their six children and her husband’s nephew.
Lee, the youngest of 11 children, grew up in a three-room house in Vanderwagen, 18 miles south of Gallup. There was an outhouse and no running water. The kids slept in one room on the floor.
Every day after school, her father drove her and her siblings to Earl’s Restaurant in downtown Gallup, where they sat outside until dark, selling their homemade jewelry. Sometimes they’d sneak off to a nearby Long John Silver’s and buy crumbs — bits of fish off the grill — for 25 cents.
“I was rejected and not loved,” Lee says flatly. “And I was molested. And I was raped. And I was abused a lot. And as I grew, you know, I really didn’t have that love.”
For years, she says she used drugs, drank and gambled.
Life might have gone on that way. But in 2015, her youngest child got sick and ended up in intensive care in Albuquerque.
“I turned to the Lord for help,” Lee says.
Embracing Navajo tradition is how other parents across the Navajo Nation guide and protect their children. The traditional way of life – the Diné language, culture and values — provides a foundation for children’s health and well-being. Tradition gives children a sense of identity and connection to their past and their future, something reinforced by fundamentals like K’e, or kinship, which makes family relationships central to their lives.
Lee’s roadmap is her fierce belief in Christianity.
She got sober. She got her GED. She convinced her husband to convert. And he enrolled at the University of New Mexico in Gallup; he’s due to graduate in May.
“We’re doing it for our kids,” Lee says.
Support far away
“Good morning! Good morning!” Ndolo announces to the class of 13 students. “You made it! We’re going to have a good time today!”
He walks slowly around the room and shakes hands with students.
“Jamie,” he says, when he sees a large gauze bandage on hers. “What happened to your hand?”
“I burned it,” she says, embarrassed. “I was cooking bacon. The handle on the pan broke.”
“And you still came to class! Good for you!” Benson exclaims. “Many other people, you know, they’d say ‘Oh, Benson, I can’t come because of the bacon. Oh, Benson, since my bacon I can’t do anything.’ But no, you don’t use excuses.”
Classes at New Life Learning Center are free, aside from a small registration fee that Ndolo says he imposed because students are less likely to drop out if they’ve invested something. The only financial burden is the $120 fee that the GED Testing Service charges — double the price of a few years ago, and beyond the means of many students.
Nearly 500 of Ndolo’s students have earned their high school equivalency degree in the last four years, by his count. The center was voted “Program of the Year 2011-2012” by the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy.
But the financial picture is bleak, Ndolo says. The center’s main support has been a foundation in the Netherlands that funds humanitarian programs around the world; that grant ran out last year. McKinley County gave the New Life Learning Center a few thousand dollars in 2016, about $9,000 less than in previous years, owing to budget shortfalls.
The worst news came in late March: The center could no longer offer GED tests as it has in the past. The GED Testing Service (GTS), the organization that authorizes GED testing centers, withheld its certification. Ndolo says he’s had no explanation. When contacted by Searchlight, GTS said it had no comment. The New Mexico Higher Education Department’s Adult Education Division declined to elaborate, reporting that the decision was solely made by GTS.
Ndolo’s students, meanwhile, will have to travel to testing centers miles away, a difficult prospect.
Things will work out, Ndolo tells himself. All that matters for the moment is his students and their warm-up exercises with pronouns. Ndolo asks people to read a sentence with “I” or “you.”
“I feel content today,” a woman named April says.
“Every time I go out with my son, I tell him to behave himself,” Jamie Eddy says.
Ndolo’s eyes travel to Jamie’s brother, Nathaniel.
“Nathaniel, what have you got?”
Nathaniel Eddy glances up briefly before returning his gaze to the table, his entire body begging Ndolo to leave him alone.
“I don’t have a sentence,” he says.
“That’s okay. Give me anything,” Ndolo says.
“I guess I have one,” Nathaniel says with a shrug. “It ain’t that good, though.”
He stares at his paper and mumbles: “You and your friend went to the arcade, but your friend wanted to leave and you didn’t.”
Ndolo whoops. “Can you imagine he was keeping all that treasure to himself?” he exclaims. Oh, that’s a great sentence! That’s is one of the best sentences we’ve heard in the whole class! It’s a long one, too. Come on, Nathaniel — this is what I’m talking about! Give him some applause,” he tells the class.
But everyone’s already clapping.
Amy Linn has written about social justice issues for publications including the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and Salon.
by Hope Morales│Wednesday, April 18th, 2018
When I taught 3rd grade at Valley View Elementary School in Roswell, over 80 percent of my students were proficient on the state English Language Arts Standards Based Assessment (SBA) - and all but one student were proficient in math.
This was not by accident. My colleagues and I worked extremely hard to differentiate instruction and rotate students for interventions based on individual strengths and needs. All this in a district that is over 70 percent Hispanic and where more then 80 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Then SBA was replaced by The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, better known as PARRC. Suddenly my students would no longer underline or highlight their answer on the short story portion. Simple math strategies were no longer enough to solve a multi-step word problem. The bar was raised.
At first, I did not like PARCC. I had not been teaching to this level and felt it was unfair to teach standards that were assessed at such a high level. How would I teach my third graders to analyze two texts using context clues? Or to solve multi-step problems when they could only recognize one question within the statement?
I had to change who I was as an instructor. I could no longer teach how I had been taught as a student – or what I learned when I studied to become a teacher. I sought out more mentor teachers to “borrow” best strategies. I created resources that better met the needs of my students, because the scripted curriculum no longer cut it. I signed up for the new Common Core professional development my district offered. I continued to differentiate my instruction and push the envelope.
The culture within my classroom had to change as well. As a team, my students and I acknowledged the objectives were challenging, but committed to each other that we would all do our best.
While my student achievement scores dropped from the high proficiency ratings I earned under SBA, I saw light at the end of the tunnel. The state system was no longer tracking only proficiency. Student growth now figured into the mix. Both mattered to me and my students.
My students’ proficiency ratings were still above the district and state average, but short of my expectations. I earned 74.8 percent of points for student growth on my teacher evaluation. I was on the right track, but continued to aspire for more.
Growth on this assessment meant my students were learning critical skills at high levels. Proficiency meant my students would be prepared to attend college or begin a career right after high school.
Although I am no longer in the classroom, I still get excited for this time of year. I remember marching down the hallway with my class chanting, “Who will rock the test? We will rock the test!” My students had no fear about taking the assessment. They understood the questions were challenging and were ready.
My daughter, Jayla, will take the PARCC assessment for the first time this year. She is a little anxious because, like me, she is a perfectionist. I like that she is a little nervous though, because this shows me how much she cares. And life is full of these challenges we must rise to.
Jayla is also excited. Military Heights Elementary has done a great job celebrating the hard work and effort students put into their learning this year. The teachers have become their biggest cheerleaders and planned a variety of activities to keep the students engaged and learning throughout the assessment schedule.
Many people are unaware that high-quality state assessments are required by federal law and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), of which New Mexico has the best in the nation. For my children, I prefer the rigorous and critical thinking questions of PARCC, rather than the basic questions of SBA.
The rigor of PARCC questions, and the type of preparation required, mean different opportunities are available to our students after high school. In a world where critical thinking and 21st century skills are requisite, this is a good thing. If we want to change the cycle for many families in New Mexico, we have to offer them more and teach higher.
So, for all the educators and school staff that help prepare students across the state for this assessment - and for their future: Thank you!
And to our students, including Jayla: “Who will rock the test? You will rock the test!”
Hope Morales - Director of Policy, Teach Plus New Mexico
Prior to joining Teach Plus in 2017, Hope taught 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th grades in Roswell Independent School District and was the school’s Teacher on Special Assignment. She is a proud Roswell resident, wife to Jacob, and mother of three wonderful children.