Before leading our Unions, we were elementary school teachers in New Mexico. We assigned grades— lots of grades. We made sure students, principals, and parents knew scoring was fair and transparent, and used the information to accurately discuss each child’s progress. Stephanie Ly is the president of American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and Ellen Bernstein is the president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. Grading is a very serious responsibility.
Many New Mexico children have either just started their school year or are preparing to start soon. This month students will prepare for school, new books, new teachers and their respective dirty looks. The state Public Education Department (PED) rates schools with an A-F grading system to identify which need ones need improvement—and schools with persistently low grades could experience major overhauls. That’s causing alarm among some teachers, especially in rural communities. This week the U.S. Education Department officially accepted New Mexico’s education plan, which is required under a 2015 federal law—and includes provisions that could shut down or revamp schools in remote areas where schools are scarce to begin with.
Both New Mexico senators voted in favor of a No Child Left Behind replacement Wednesday, following unanimous support last week on the same bill from the state’s Congressional delegation. Democrats and teachers unions have widely praised the Every Student Succeeds Act for taking away federal oversight of accountability from standardized tests. Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government could withhold money from schools that scored low on the Adequate Yearly Progress reports, which were made from standardized test scores. The new bill, which cleared the House of Representatives last week, leaves this type of accountability measures to the states. “It gives states the decision on high stakes testing, which unfortunately in our state the governor wants,” Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said in an interview.
Standardized tests took a blow this week nationally and locally after Congress abandoned No Child Left Behind and a local judge suspended schools’ abilities to use state teacher evaluations for personnel decisions. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the controversial George W. Bush-era federal education law if passed by the Senate and approved by President Obama. All of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, which is usually split along party lines, voted for the bill. While the new law would still mandate schools give standardized tests to students from grades three-eight and once in high school, it restricts the federal government from measuring the results. One of the most controversial parts of No Child Left Behind was its Adequate Yearly Progress reports, which measured progress on state-mandated math and reading tests.
Schools can no longer deny students access to programs because they refuse to take psychotropic medications, references to a key aspect of No Child Left Behind are gone forever in New Mexico public schools and e-cigarettes are now considered tobacco products, according to new state laws that went into effect today. June 19, 2015 marks the day when roughly half of the new legislation passed by state lawmakers in the 2015 session becomes law. In total, 79 new laws are now in place. They include a bill sponsored by state Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, called “No Compelled Medication Use For Students.” It bars school administrators and employees from compelling “specific actions by the parent or guardian or require that a student take psychotropic medication,” according to its fiscal impact analysis.