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Posted August 15, 2011

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August 2011: Live, learn as if time is fleeting

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

Time is too short to accomplish everything we want to, and there’s no greater reminder of that truth than summer vacation. Did you and your children “do it all” this summer? What did you cross off your bucket list? I’ve got my own bucket list, and it has a lot to do with the 2011-12 school year at Albuquerque Public Schools.

We just received the sure sign that summer is almost over: The state released Adequate Yearly Progress results based on last spring’s testing. The scores weren’t what anyone wanted – 87 percent of schools in New Mexico are not making AYP as defined under the federal No Child Left Behind Act – but even our secretary of education agrees that the current system is stacked against public education because all students are required to be proficient in math and reading by 2014, unless the law is changed.

Six of our schools in Albuquerque met AYP, and they should be commended for that. They beat the odds. We didn’t accomplish what we set out to do, as 52 percent of APS students are proficient in reading and 45.3 percent are proficient in math. Then again, those are better than the statewide results of 50 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

But parents and the community can’t compare this year’s AYP numbers and students’ performance on the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment with prior years because changes made by the state make it impossible to make such comparisons.

The reasons are complicated, but the state Public Education Department changed the cut scores for the SBA, which is not an uncommon process. This means that while an 80 percent on a previous year’s sixth grade math test may have been good enough for a student to be rated as “proficient,” this was not necessarily true for sixth-graders taking this year’s test. This year, students may have been required to get 85 percent correct in order to meet proficiency. So, instead of being able to compare proficiency rates, 2011 gives us a new “baseline” to work with. It amounts to starting over, but beginning with a new, higher standard.

The state also changed the scale on which SBA scores are calculated. In layman’s terms this is equivalent to saying that while in previous years an “A” was calculated at 90 percent or above, an “A” in 2011 might have been awarded only to those achieving a 95 percent or above. The only way to compare the two grades is if they were converted to the same scale. Converting scores between the two scales is incredibly complicated.

The state has proposed that one way to make AYP and SBA scores more meaningful is to go from the pass/fail of AYP to an A-F grading system for schools. The PED is still working on what data will be considered to come up with these grades, so we’ll have to stay tuned.

Until then, I’m working on my own bucket list for this school year. Educators run out of time with kids; we have just one shot to teach them. I recently asked administrators what they want to accomplish during the school year, and their responses included spending more time with students and parents, and paying more attention to each individual child.

Those are good answers. They’re not asking more of their staffs than they are willing to do themselves. And, the truth is, APS has 1,000 fewer employees than three years ago, so everyone is stretching. But time is short, and we can’t afford to miss opportunities with students.

There’s a Tim McGraw song called “Live Like You Were Dying,” which I love. It’s a good reminder to focus on what’s important. We’re going to make the most of our time educating students because time is short and that is what’s important. We’re going to Accelerate Progress for Students (APS) this year and do all we can with the time we have.

We’re going to live like we’re dying this year, because the bucket is pretty full.

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