Recently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, released the results from tests administered to fourth and eighth grade students between January and March of this year. The good news for New Mexico is the fact that our fourth grade English learners made significant growth in both math and reading (12 points and 17 points, respectively), and our fourth grade students with disabilities grew five points in reading.

The concerning news for New Mexico is the fact that, overall, New Mexico’s 2019 data showed little variation from the previous NAEP assessment data from 2017; 2019 results show that:

• 24 percent of fourth graders scored proficient or above in reading.

• 24 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or above in reading.

• 29 percent of fourth graders scored proficient or above in math.

• 21 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or above in math.

While these student achievement numbers are the result of efforts made prior to the current administration, this academic stagnation serves as a clear and urgent reminder of why the investments being made by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her administration are critical to creating a bold and effective new course for our children.

Already in the first 10 months of this administration, the governor and Legislature have invested hundreds of millions of new dollars into education. This money has created extended school year opportunities for thousands of children, enabled the launch of critical support services for at-risk students, created more community schools, bolstered career and technical education programs, and raised educator salaries so that our best teachers choose to stay in the classroom. At present, we have seen a 13 percent decrease in teacher vacancies compared to last year — an early indicator that these investments are paying off.

Perhaps more importantly, this investment is a clear and emphatic signal to our educators that we are investing in the professionalism and in the continued support and growth of our educators. Academic improvement requires well-trained and well-supported teachers equipped with research-based, relevant and culturally responsive curriculum. Improvement requires assessment and data systems that can be used to drive instructional decision-making. Improvement requires an evaluation system that defines excellence and provides for regular feedback about how educators can continuously strengthen their practice.

The Public Education Department has outlined a set of strategic focus areas that lays out a pathway for improvement and that responds to the reforms mandated by the Yazzie-Martinez court decision:

• We will attend to needs of the whole child, including improved content area teacher preparation and professional development alongside investments in social and emotional learning, culturally and linguistically responsive curriculum, and improved special education services.

• We will close opportunity gaps by implementing extended year programs, investing in community schools and providing evidence-based supports for struggling schools.

• We will redefine the profile of what today’s New Mexico graduates need to know and be able to do, and align our programs and requirements from pre-K through college to this profile.

• And, we will create a vibrant educator ecosystem through improved teacher preparation, licensure, professional development and leadership training.

Creating significant and sustainable change is not easy, and it will not be achieved overnight. But our urgency and level of investment in our children and in our educators cannot waver.

As we move forward together, I firmly believe that obstacles we face are no match for the potential of this moment. All of our students have extraordinary potential, and with the right supports and policies in place, our great educators can inspire extraordinary results for children from all backgrounds, regardless of race, income or a child’s first language.

Improving the educational outcomes and life possibilities for all children is both the opportunity and challenge of our lifetimes. Through these combined efforts, we are taking a moonshot for the children of New Mexico. We are up for this challenge. This is our moment.

Ryan Stewart is the secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department.

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