New Mexico Unveils Accelerated Learning Plan for Summer

To address inequities in learning loss during the pandemic, which largely stemmed from poor access to broadband and technology, the state has set guidelines for districts and accelerated learning programs this summer.

New Mexico Capitol
New Mexico Capitol
Shutterstock/Zack Frank
(TNS) — The state Public Education Department has released a month-by-month summer plan intended to get New Mexico schools ready for accelerated learning in the fall, following two academic years largely stymied by the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan, dubbed "Roadmap 2.0," is a fresh version of New Mexico's Roadmap to Accelerated Learning and Renewal that the education department issued in March. It provides guidelines to districts in eight key areas, including budgeting, academics, equity, staffing and communication with school communities.

The plan could leave New Mexico schools looking different when students return in the fall.

It lays out a timeline for districts to finalize their budgets and determine how to use the latest round of emergency federal COVID-19 funds. Plans for spending the money are due to the state by June 24.

The plan also urges districts to keep tabs on projected student enrollment to ensure adequate staffing levels and directs schools to develop "culturally and linguistically responsive" teams dedicated to assuring students' home languages and cultures are respected in the classroom.

"We wanted a document that keeps up as new information emerges and informs new best practices," Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a recent news release about the plan.

Roadmap 2.0 emphasizes the use of accelerated learning as key to getting kids on track post-pandemic. Accelerated learning favors using new instructional methods to teach students materials at their grade level rather than using remediation techniques, which focus on material below grade level — even for students who are behind their classmates.

The framework is meant to address expected inequities in learning loss during the pandemic. A 2020 study by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found Black and Latino students were likely to incur greater losses from online learning than their white peers. Low-income students may have even lost a year's worth of learning, the study found.

The differences stem from poor access to broadband and technology, and the quality of online learning students received.

New Mexico school districts are expected to make plans for accelerated learning by July, based on a guide released by the New Teachers Project. Schools will need to build assessments and collect more data on student performance, and make diagnostic data on individual students available to teachers so they can meet student needs in the fall.

"We acknowledged that this might feel like a radically different approach for some of your teachers and leaders," the New Teachers Project Report says. "And in many ways, it is."

Outgoing Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García said the district is already rolling down the Roadmap 2.0 path, thanks to a five-year strategic plan implemented a few years ago.

"Every area that's covered in the road map is already covered in the strategic plan," she said.

The district discussed the results of this year's interim assessments on reading and math proficiency for third through eighth graders as part of its move toward accelerated learning practices.

The assessments are different from the state's standardized assessments suspended in 2019, García said, but it provides a picture of student progress in a time when statewide testing was halted during the pandemic.

The reading and math assessments were given to students at the beginning, middle and end of the year.

"We have not been flying blind," García said during a Thursday school board meeting.

Reading proficiency, at 51 percent districtwide, was above the target of having 40 percent of students read at a target level.

Meanwhile, math proficiency changed little from 2018-19, with percentages in the high teens and mid-20s.

"This is a statewide problem for whatever reason," García said at the meeting.

Next year the district will implement a new math program called Middle School Math, and the superintendent predicts in a few years, proficiency rates should improve among high schoolers as a result.

Boosting communication efforts with communities is another tenet of the state's summer road map. The Public Education Department is encouraging districts to stay in touch with families over the summer through social media and community surveys.

It's an area the Santa Fe district is focusing on this summer and into the fall in an attempt to bolster an increasingly diverse volunteer force and to get more parents involved with parent-teacher organizations.

Those are two areas García said were lacking in the past. This year, however, the district added more than 130 bilingual volunteers to its ranks, she said.

"We realized we need to beef up [engagement]," García said.

The district also will debut a new communication platform for parents in the fall. The program, called Remind, will be able to translate information into dozens of languages and offer communication options for parents.

"Parents can choose, 'I want to know through email or text message or robocall,' " García said. "Right now I feel like we hit and miss when we do our robocalls."

Over the summer, in line with Roadmap 2.0, the district will conduct surveys to get an idea of how to spend the emergency federal funds.

At Santa Fe Public Schools, that may mean expanding efforts to get more educators ready to teach children learning English as a second language, which García called a great need in the district.

"I fully expect that one of the recommendations is that we get more teachers endorsed" to teach English learners, García said.

©2021 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.