NMLA Meeting 10/11

Ian Esquibel and Bella from the New Mexico Learning Alliance facilitated the meeting.

A Recounting: (please email corrections/addenda to oneofthejeffs@yahoo.com):

There were individual anecdotes around the room of positive and negative experiences with the current assessment, and Janelle and Bella spoke about their experience as students, which lead to their activism, bill writing and research, and a youth summit they have organized at Washington Middle School in April.

Susan said that the latest Federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, was intended to move toward more holistic assessment. The implementation of the ESSA in New Mexico does not change the state’s policy of assessment as it stands. Susan said grassroots solutions were the best. The notion that it is better to “ask forgiveness rather than permission” in implementing systems of more meaningful assessment is a faster solution to the problems we are faced with in the current system. (The problems we are faced with include being ranked at or next to or at the bottom in education nationally, steadily for the last three or four years, and being a state which is losing experienced teachers, and is not attractive for new teachers.)

It was brought up that the state needs to build the infrastructure to support more meaningful assessment. Susan said there are grants available and some state have accessed them. Massachusetts has a collaborative for education. New Hampshire has initiated PACE as a model for assessment. Colorado has created an “innovation zone”.  The language of “Alternative Assessment” carries for some, an implication of substandard. Ellen talked about using the language and work around “Authentic Assessment” which was prevalent in the 1980’s, and spoke about the fact that a more holistic assessment is more representative of an individual’s learning and abilities.

I asked Susan if she thought open-source education resources would help to bypass the entrenchment of current assessment methods by the monetization of assessments, (efforts such as Learnzillion, and our own OpenSourceEd.org).  Susan affirmed that “OER” is a part of the solution.

Barbara Peterson, board member from APS and former teacher, spoke about the need to foster teachers as professionals, and include “teacher voice” in the formation of future policy.

Jack Jekowski, from the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education spoke about the fact that the author of New Mexico’s evaluation system was recently published in a work about the inaccuracies of his own, and other systems like it, cited in their newsletter, here.

Senator Padilla was recognized for his sponsorship of Senate Joint Memorial 1, which has the potential to transform education in New Mexico under the flexibility of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The memorial asks New Mexico to create a pilot program that will design new ways of assessing our students, besides just standardized tests.  Article

He spoke about the role poverty plays in education, his own experience with poverty as a child, and how important efforts like this continue.

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Improving Education in New Mexico

Originally published October 11, 2017

I met today at the National Hispanic Cultural Center to represent the Golden Apple Academy, with people from the Legislative Education Study Committee, Senator Padilla, Ellen Bernstein, Susan Patrick of iNacol, the Coalition for Excellence in Education, PTEC, the LANL Foundation, board members from APS, teachers, parents, and students in a meeting initiated the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, and sponsored by the New Mexico Learning Alliance.  The regular gathering of stakeholders in New Mexico education is necessary for the continuity of conversation of our values as a state, and what we want to bring to our children for the future of New Mexico.  The status of education in New Mexico demonstrates the need to broaden the conversation beyond the NM Public Education Department, and it was a sign of hope to have such representation from many organizations and individuals at the meeting today.  A discussion summary is here.   (Jump to the most pressing action)

Take Aways and Next Steps

It was an honor to be amidst an impressive group of individuals and organizations concerned with education in our state.  I would like to work toward a more cohesive educational conversation in New Mexico, a commonly used repository for the continuation and advancement of this conversation, and public access for action.  My post here is toward that ideal, and to serve as my impressions of the direction of conversation.

We, in the group, have the common experience that the current evaluation system of students, and therefore teachers and schools (because those evaluations are built from there), is lacking.

My personal experience with the evaluation system is exemplified by the evaluation I signed today, October 26th 2017, the day of this revision.  My “effective” rating would have been “highly effective” or better,  except for the test scores of the 45 students I had last year.  Well, I had only 21 students last year.  The failure of the PED to even properly count the number of students I had in my class should serve as warning for its ability toward higher math functions, like addition.

Similarly, the school where I work received an “F” this year, and then a later apology from the PED that a miscalculation had artificially driven our school grade down, it was not an “F”.  The “school grades” news article in the Albuquerque Journal was long since to press, and our entire community is affected by the misinformation.

 The appearance of objectivity, the reductionistic simplicity of  accepting quantitative data for what should be assessed qualitatively, is an abdication of the responsibility of relational accountability.   The pretense of making learning  a data-set and students a product of schools rather than people with complexity, however convenient for policy, has broken down at every level in the above examples.  That is just my own experience,  for just this year.

We now need to create a new infrastructure to support a more complete system of assessment.  We will need criteria, auditors, and educators who are trained in the assessment of student products according to that criteria.

This will begin a recovery for teachers to be trained as professionals with judgment and agency, rather than the trend to move teachers into compliant, undertrained, assembly-line workers.

With regard to teachers as professionals, meetings such as these should be counted as professional development for interested teachers, so that teachers are encouraged to participate in these and any conversations about education, and the community is informed about education from a teacher’s perspective.  Until that becomes standard practice, meetings such as these should be planned to accommodate teachers who cannot attend.  The teacher’s professional judgment, as mentioned here at  leadership-pdc.org, needs to be fostered and counted.

The most pressing action, no matter a person’s affiliation, is to create a more publicly accountable Public Education Department, with protections against the gridlock that lead us to this rendition.  It is imperative to reintroduce a democratic process into the issuance of education policy, and executive order type “rule” needs to come under a more scrutinous process. The current example of why we need to change that structure is the near adoption of the New Mexico “version” of science standards, discussed here.

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An Adopted Problem For New Mexico

New Mexico is on the verge of dumbing down education by adopting the Next Generation Science Standards with two adjustments for our state:

1) they are not supported by science,
2) they are not standard.

Here is the bigger problem:  I learned today in a consortium of legislators, educators, and researchers, that after taking public comment on the proposed adoption, whatever the outcome of that comment, the Public Education Department of Governor Martinez, most likely will adopt those faulty standards anyway.   They will say a “significant number” of public comment was in support of the adoption, (they won’t provide statistics, or they will play with semantics) and they’ll say districts have discretion, but the outcome will be that New Mexico will officially adopt the rule, bypassing all democratic processes.

After we restore policy for the people of New Mexico, we will need to dismantle the Secretary of Education post.  This example should be enough for people from all affiliations to realize the importance of elevating education out of the election cycle. The fact that the next administration can sweep away everything done in this administration, by passing “rules”, should convince everyone to change the mechanism to a more publicly accountable system. The volatility of policy should not undermine “the best of our knowledge”, which is what science education, and any education, is supposed to be.

To read the specifics of the proposed “rule” here is the LANL foundation position paper:


Word is, because of this “loophole”, we can expect many rules to be proclaimed over the next year.

Please still participate, to the best of our abilities we must.   Interested parties may provide comment on the proposed repeal and replacement of this state rule at the public hearing or may submit written comments, or both, to Jamie Gonzales, Policy Division, New Mexico Public Education Department, Room 101, 300 Don Gaspar Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, or by electronic mail at rule.feedback@state.nm.us, or fax to (505) 827-6681.  All written comments must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. (MDT) on the date of the public hearing.  The PED encourages the early submission of written comments.  The public comment period is from September 12, 2017 to October 16, 2017 at 5 p.m. (MDT)



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School Grades and Context

With the fresh start of each new school year, students, families, and teachers are welcomed back by the Public Education Department with a front-page story about the awful job they are doing, because apparently there isn’t enough animosity targeting schools.  The person substituting for the previous secretary of education has picked up where she left off, guns a’ blazing.  Important to school grades, and our community at large for passers-by and residents alike, is context.  Informing the community about that context would be encouragement, because, despite what is being touted at New Mexico’s Public Education Department, there is terrific work being done.  How’s the public flogging, testing, and underfunding of education helping that work?

The fact that scientists and mathematicians, locally and nationally, have disavowed, multiple times, the methods that the Public Education Department in New Mexico uses to grade students, teachers, and schools, should be noted with each article that is published, like the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes. (See references 1, 2, 3)  The public should know that there is little validity in the grades schools receive.  Media should juxtapose the “crime map” of the state with the “grade map“, and ask deeper questions, like “should we hold teachers accountable for the socioeconomic status of a child?“ which is still, after all is said and done, the closest correlation to test scores that we have.

Communities, with that information, can then begin to address trauma and poverty, which affect our families and cause the difficulties our state witnesses.  Diminishing schools, publicly humiliating the people who are hard at work in the fight to change these cycles, is harmful to the actual goal of helping those families. We have driven teachers out. (See reference 4)  There are hundreds of teaching vacancies.  Teachers continue to leave the state in droves, which is a bellwether for the state.  We should be looking for ways to bring them back and cheer for the ones who are still here, rather than denigrate the dedicated people who remain.

The hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on assessment each year would be better spent on food, clothing, shelter, therapy, and tutoring.  Acknowledging trauma and poverty as key issues is not “soft bigotry”, it is fact, which is lately out of fashion, but remains nonetheless.    To quote our school’s principal, “Nourishment, rather than measurement, is how a child grows.”  The people who would sell you the assessments and grades, and micromanagement down to a breath, couldn’t hold a candle to the principal at our school, or the many public servants that are my colleagues out there, who are doing the actual work.  But politicians should be trying to light candles, anyway, instead of constantly cursing this darkness. Their current course of action continues to add to the darkness.

Jeff Tuttle
Monte Vista Elementary School
Golden Apple Fellow


Linked References:

  1. A group of scientists and mathematicians from Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, who had reviewed the school grading system, and said the math used to come with those grades was “something like adding oranges and cows to derive pickup trucks. The result is not obviously meaningful.” https://www.abqjournal.com/122266/simplify-af-grading-formula-to-get-buyin.html
  1. The trend nationally of this kind of misuse of math in data interpretation, in this example for “Value Added Models” of teacher evaluation, caused the entire American Statistical Association to publish a position paper in April of 2014 which warned “Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions.”  By this finding, 1% would be the most that test scores could be included in the evaluation of teachers, since there is not reliability in a number any higher. http://www.amstat.org/asa/files/pdfs/POL-ASAVAM-Statement.pdf
  1. The author of NM’s teacher evaluation rubric, Charlotte Danielson, expresses her concern for the misuse of her work: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/04/20/charlotte-danielson-on-rethinking-teacher-evaluation.html
  1. https://www.abqjournal.com/879333/nm-2ndhighest-in-teacher-turnover.html


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Note to self #1((ish)


Anybody who has lived more than 10 years in a single place is witness to the fact that humans impact the environment around them.  This is observably true.  The notion that a large number of people have a large impact upon the natural world is not conjecture, except as a device to distract people who are viewed as potential competitors for resources.  Shutting the eyes, mouth and ears to the witness of the destruction of the natural world by firing scientists serves well the purpose of keeping possible competitors for resources in the dark.  A silencing of the lambs.  Although this may increase the speed and depth of devastation, it will preserve for a few a lifestyle and perhaps even a life.

Cooperation, rather than competition, which is to say democracy rather than capitalism, works to spread knowledge rather than limit it, creates the distributed processing of a problem and hope for a solution.  The active recruitment of the populous for critical thought rather than loyalty replaces cynicism with faith.

Instead of being lulled to sleep by the white noise at the top, we should continue to pique each other’s consciousness, and continue the discussion, and search for solutions to the problems we face.  This is an attempt to keep myself awake, I hope it is helpful for you, too.


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Calling Scheherazade

Scheherazade, who saved herself by serialization, needs to stage a come-back and tell us a string of stories.  Not stories kissed with apocolypstic, but of survival, and thrival, but not tribal, if you know what I mean.   We need the positive imagined outcomes of humanity.  We need the narrative of peace and prosperity, compassion, and the continued existence of the variety of life on earth.   I know, it doesn’t sell on Netflix.   But we need to speak about possibilities and good outcomes, we need to make it popular to be unabashedly hopeful and forge a new reality, closer to the heart, as Rush have it.  



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The thing that lasts

At the end of another school year, which always creates a slurry of emotions at the estuary of the single year and the rest of time, I think of things.

Did you see “National Treasure”?  I did, years ago.  I thought it was a fun pass down to the kids of the apex of our governance, that the peak we stand on is built on the long parade of unreasoning, and at last we have come to value reason over might, at least as a creed, if not always in action, but even with the articulation of that hope, we begin the journey toward it.   And although the metaphor was courted throughout the movie with a few good lines (“If there’s something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action”) – the literal manifestation of the National Treasure, which could have been the map itself, the long journey, on the back of the Declaration of Independence, the long work toward freedom; the movie manifest the greatest treasure passed down to be gold instead, because, well, people like me like shiny things.  But I don’t know if that delivered the goods, if you know what I mean.   I know a movie can’t be too preachy.  But hey, a central theme of humanity might be okay as a theme for movie climax, right?  To say, “hey, we’ve had the treasure all along, it is us, our lifestyle, our freedoms, the map we carry…”- maybe a be a bit too Wizard of Oz, I suppose.

I wonder though, why the things I think of as so utterly basic to who we are as a nation, seem to have slipped from common understanding.  I wonder where the breakdown occurred.

A former student asked if I had ever seen “Poltergeist”.  He was venturing into a change in our relationship- he was doing an “adult thing” by seeing a scary movie, and trying to relate on that adult realm, years after he was a student of mine.  “Yes!”  I said.  “I really liked the metaphor of how screens steal away our youth”.  By the look on his face, I could see the movie might not have delivered that to him, just yet.

I wonder about my own imperceptiveness, and what things, bigger and smaller I have missed.  Oceans are implied by the shells I have found.  I wonder what great recipes have not been passed down, or techniques have been lost.  I struggle with the idea that my own lack of awareness may bring discontinuity, even the death or extinction of something.  I’m certain it is true, in this, the Anthropocene.

So what lasts?  We know that our grandma’s experience becomes our genetic code.  Even more proximal, a mother’s milk, shaped by her own experiences, affects the “hardware” of the baby.  Down into the molecules, our behaviors manifest.  Out of the ether comes the matter.

I took some students to a farm, two years ago.  An organic farm, and the farmer was a spry 77 year old, doing work, speaking to the students with excellent illustration of earth to person affect.  I was spellbound, and asked if he had written his spiel down, made a book.  “No,” he said, “It would not hold the resonance of my voice.”   I don’t know what it means, really.  More shells, probably.  His response stuck to me, such an anachronistic thing.  A thing out of time.  Something that lasts with me.

What strands of thought, of DNA, how our love and lives be smithied into the collective conscious, or the legacy of individuals, I do not know.  So, back to the personal, the people I love, the moments that last with me.  Another year, and I have always been so lucky.


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