[Susan notes: Here is an on-the-mark letter from an Albuquerque teacher with a very long history with the school district. I'm not talking age here; I'm talking family heritage.This is the kind of person Albuquerque policy makers should be talking to. What are the chances that they will?]
Submitted to Governor's and Secretary Education offices but not published
I have enjoyed living in Albuquerque my entire life as well as attending Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) from 1st through 12th grades. I went to Cortez Elementary (now Freedom High School), Jefferson Junior High, and Highland High School. My dad and granddad were Albuquerque High School Bulldogs, while my mom was a Highland Hornet the first year it opened. My two children attended Montezuma Elementary and both graduated from Albuquerque High. I taught at Montezuma for 8 years and now serve as our school's Instructional Coach. I am passionate and well informed about public education in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the United States. That is why I write to you today.
I am voicing my strong, thoughtful objections to overhauling our state's current teacher evaluation system. I would like to address why it will be harmful to our children by telling you the differences I have witnessed at Montezuma since 2001, the year NCLB was put into law, as I think it is indicative of the lack of effectiveness of the current punitive, short-sighted, educational and public policy.
Montezuma serves Albuquerque's elementary students who have mental illnesses, house a cluster program for students with emotional disabilities, and have an excellent neighborhood Special Education program, we have the largest percentage of the subgroup with the NCLB designation, Ă˘€śstudents with disabilitiesĂ˘€ť. This group of children annually takes almost 30 hours of standardized tests (17 hours of the NMSBA, 12 of the District Benchmark Assessments) which are two to three grade levels above these studentsĂ˘€™ documented reading and math levels. This group also gets to hear that they are Beginning Steps or Nearing Proficiency 4 times a year beginning in 3rd grade. Our large subgroup of Special Education students have never made AYP (although they make tremendous academic and mental progress which is never publicized nor valued by the current system) because of the way schools are deemed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in NCLB. Therefore, Montezuma is in its 4th year of Restructuring---the most punitive of labels.
The behaviors of our student population with mental illnesses have become more severe with the economic crisis, diminished social services, and vital supports that have been withdrawn. In April for example, we had two police officers at our school talking down a 5th grade student who was having a violent episode in the principalĂ˘€™s office. Eight adults plus the two officers took an hour and a half to finally calm her down.
CYFD is a weekly visitor at our school to interview students because we offer a safe and secure environment. When my kids were in school, CYFD MIGHT have been called 2 or 3 times the entire year.
MontezumaĂ˘€™s Free and Reduced Lunch rate has increased from 35% (in the late 1990s when my kids went there) to over 76% today.
Our full time nurse is incredibly busy dispensing medications to students with asthma, mental issues, and health concerns relating to poor nutrition.
Over one third of our students have a Body Mass Index (BMI) percentage that puts them in the obese category.
Our counselor is busy with the increased amount of friendship groups of children whose parents are incarcerated.
Increasingly, we are finding more Montezuma students who are homeless, living in the Motel 6 on University/Menaul, or motels at University and Candelaria.
Public School reform for Montezuma has been brutal. Our spectacular teachers are annually proclaimed in our newspapers to not "adequately progress" their students, budget cuts for critical services for our students are implemented, multiple reports are written to the state about why we didn't make AYP, but how we will next year (even though we know it is impossible), and the hoops for getting help and interventions for our students are increased.
All the research I have read about the Value Added Measures show that, at best, it is a flawed method to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness in producing proficient students. At worst, it can be devastating to a teacherĂ˘€™s profession, but most importantly, affects students with the highest needs. To base a students progress or non-progress in standardized reading and math tests totally on the teacher and not take into account any other factors like those detailed above would be grossly unfair to teachers and most importantly to students. Teachers are passionate about making education better for our children yet tragically; none of the reforms of NCLB have accomplished this.
Instead of putting our diminishing resources of time and money into questionable evaluations of a teacher's effectiveness in students' test taking abilities, we must dedicate these resources into the most precious resource of all---our children. To improve our education, I urge you to consider true, valuable, and visionary reforms such as (1) supporting early identification of students with academic issues and immediate interventions, (2) supports for the physical and mental well being of our children and families before they come to school and then during their time with us, (3) offering a rich, diverse, thoughtful, sustainable education so that our students can be able to navigate the enormous challenges of today and tomorrow, (4) reduce class size in order to give more attention to the increasing needs of our students, (5) provide school lunches that are nutritious and a satisfying time for our children, and (6) educate teachers to be able to face the enormous challenges that present themselves to us every day.
I would be happy to talk about this with you further.