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Posted December 16, 2009

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October 2009: Setting Goals

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

If Albuquerque Public Schools was run strictly as a business, we would be expected to set modest goals of a 2 to 3 percent increase in sales each year, just as other businesses across the country do.  If our company was feeling particularly ambitious or optimistic, we might even set a double-digit goal.
Principals were confident enough about the work they were doing and optimistic about the abilities of their students to do just that. That optimism paid off. The results of the state Standards Based Assessment tests were phenomenal. As a district we met or exceeded four of our seven reading goals and six of the seven math goals. That means we reached or surpassed ten out of fourteen academic targets we set last year.

Our third graders took the biggest leap with a 28 percent gain in math scores. That’s about 2,000 more kids who met proficiency than in the previous year—in one grade. Wow!

We’re just warming up.  We have committed to increase the number of students who are proficient in math and reading by ten percent each year through 2012.
This isn’t wishful thinking. We have a plan and highly qualified educators to get us there.

(I know that in recent days you’ve read about changes to the APS graduation rate – changes that frankly make us look better. While I welcome those more accurate numbers they don’t change the course we’ve set for strong, steady growth at every school, in every grade for every school year.)

The expectations are highest for those schools in need of the most improvement, but growth is expected across the board.

We have great blueprints from all corners of the city to build upon.  Valle Vista Elementary made enormous strides last year and met  Adequate Yearly Progress. Part of the strategy was to engage all stakeholders.

The first step was to recognize that while all students have talents and strengths they don’t all enter a classroom with the same academic preparation. An assessment of every student was done and the collective findings were shared to determine the group’s strengths and weaknesses. Goals and action plans followed.

For example, all second graders had to learn their “doubles,” but not all had parents to help with the homework to commit the math equations to memory. In this case one student would assist another with the exercise—even if it meant staying after school.

The students were given feedback on an individual and class basis, they tracked their data and celebrated their successes.

At Double Eagle Elementary in the Far Northeast Heights test scores were strong enough that they had to scour data to identify hidden opportunities. A gender gap in reading that favored girls was discovered. They knew that by addressing the gender gap they’d cross all demographics.

The decision was made to give boys more freedom to select reading and writing material and it paid off. The number of students proficient in reading grew to 92 percent from 90 percent and the gender gap closed significantly.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Double Eagle accomplished a 12 point jump in the percentage of students proficient in May going to 88 from 76 percent after fully committing to the math curriculum   adopted the previous year.

Some will still say that even with all this progress most of our schools did not meet AYP last year.  True, but I’m more concerned about seeing our schools grow than reaching arbitrary targets set by the state.

I also encourage parents to compare for themselves at your local schools. Your kids and their teachers are doing good work. We need to encourage them to go further.

At this point I’d argue we’ve earned some bragging rights because I don’t care what anyone says, we’re not off to a good start – we’re off to a great start.

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