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News from 2023-2024

Posted: January 9, 2024

Students to APS Board: Keep the Cheese Balls Coming, but Push Students to Challenge Themselves

Halfway through the school year, students and teachers offer their take on efforts to improve student outcomes.

Principal, teachers, and students from Alamosa Elementary.

Principal, teachers, and students from Alamosa Elementary.

In the “What’s working column,” Michael, a third-grader at Mary Ann Binford Elementary, points to recognition for doing well and the rewards he and his classmates get for improvements in reading, things like cheese balls and treats from McDonald’s.

“I went from red to yellow, and I am so proud of myself and Ms. Baca because she taught me a lot,” Michael said.

Nearly a year ago, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education approved four five-year goals aimed at preparing all APS students for the world they’ll enter after high school.

They include raising third-grade proficiency rates in English language arts and eighth-grade proficiency rates in math by at least 10 percentage points and improving post-secondary readiness, which translates into getting students to take more advanced placement and dual credit courses, among other efforts. The fourth goal is to ensure that students have the skills, mindsets, and habits they will need to be successful in life.

Just before winter break, several students, teachers, and principals went before the board to discuss the hard work going on inside classrooms to achieve those goals and to offer suggestions on what more APS could be doing to improve educational outcomes for students.

Beyond recognition and rewards, Alamosa Elementary School third-grade teachers Andrea Ortiz and Victoria Elwell pointed to successes they’re seeing by working with a reading interventionist. Their school’s reading interventionist is providing targeted reading instruction to six critical students in each classroom, twice as many students as last year, and they’re seeing significant improvements.

Ortiz also praised the Transformational Opportunity Pilot School model Alamosa is a part of, which provides extra instructional time for students, and she complimented the school’s transformational coach, who came up with a schoolwide testing plan for Alamosa.

“The kids know their expectations,” Ortiz said. “They come in, they know their goals. The teachers push it in the classrooms. It’s amazing, and we’ve seen huge gains.”  

Mrs. Powell, a seventh-grade math teacher at Jackson Middle School, praised Paper, an online tutoring platform all APS students now have access to for free. She’s using Paper to provide her students with extra one-on-one instructional time.

“Paper is a wonderful tutoring program that I have my students do quite often,” she said.

Powell said one of the issues she and her colleagues encountered when they switched to a new math curriculum that asks students to engage in math dialogue was that students were apprehensive to show their work and collaborate because they were afraid to make mistakes.

“To combat that we used a math program called Decimals,” Powell said. “It allows us to anonymize the kids so they can work anonymously. We can share their work and they’re not afraid to make mistakes. They can explain each other’s work and collaborate. It’s really helped open up some of the math dialogue that they’re just not used to having because the curriculum does demand that dialogue.”

In the “What could APS be doing better column,” seniors from high schools throughout Albuquerque said educators should be pushing students to challenge themselves, and they should be teaching students that failure is OK because that’s part of the learning process and how you grow.

“I’ve had some hard teachers, but those are the teachers I remember and why I’m such a good student,” said Nikki Dyche, a senior at Eldorado High School. “It was hard in the moment. It was very hard, but I think that’s what really made me, made my work ethic.”

“There are lots of opportunities in APS. I think that needs to be known to everyone,” Dyche later added. “Good things are happening in APS. … This is us acknowledging it and that it’s getting better and we are going on the right path. It just needs a little slight steering correction.”

Talan Herrera, a senior at Cibola High, said APS needs to expand offerings, particularly classes and workshops that are career-oriented, and strengthen the transition from eighth to ninth grade.

“I know that I especially struggled with that,” Herrera said. “One thing that I really struggled with was understanding how the structure of high school worked, what requirements I needed for high school, and those types of things should be taught and be focused on, especially when you’re going to ninth grade.”

So what can APS do to improve that transition?

“Teach students goal setting skills, work ethic, and to start as early as possible because the earlier you start, the better outcomes and performance that we see,” Herrera said. “Another thing that we also noticed was upperclassmen have an influence on the younger classmen, so if we encourage those upperclassmen to teach these younger students to push themselves and work hard, it will also improve student performance and outcomes.”