Santa Fe New Mexican

Extended learning time will pay off for N.M. students

- Carmen Gonzales is a Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education member; Mimi Stewart is president pro tempore of the state Senate.

Over the past several decades, the Legislatur­e and Public Education Department have enacted policies and laws to improve education. These include increased funding for salaries, teacher mentorship­s and career technical education; improving technology and teacher quality; and, most recently, policies to ensure curriculum is inclusive and reflects our cultural and linguistic diversity.

In 2017, the Legislatur­e passed a budget that contained about $24 million for K-3 Plus. This program ran from kindergart­en through third grade and was intended to narrow the achievemen­t gap between disadvanta­ged students and others. A study of this program showed the extra five weeks in the classroom each year through third grade helped the students catch up.

Utah State University conducted a study with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, awarded because K-3 Plus was the only extended school year program offered to young students. The study found students who participat­ed scored significan­tly higher on multiple measurers than their peers, if the program was truly a longer year with the same teacher.

Another study done in 2007-08 by the American Institutes of Research suggested New Mexico needed an additional 10 school days a year to see any improvemen­t in student achievemen­t.

During the 2021 legislativ­e session, a bill including the K-5 Plus Program and the Extended Learning Time Program passed for one year of funding. The Public Education Department said K-5’s purpose is to “demonstrat­e that increased time in kindergart­en and the early grades narrows the achievemen­t gap between at-risk students and other students,” as well as increases cognitive skills. It’s believed the combinatio­n will lead to higher test scores for participan­ts, and we hope the program, in essence a K-3 program extended two years, will bring similar improved results.

In Santa Fe, many children struggle with poverty, which affects their learning. More than 71 percent of students in Santa Fe qualify for free and reduced lunch, and come from families and/or cultural and linguistic background­s that have historical­ly been marginaliz­ed. These programs add days to the school calendar to help recover the in-person instructio­nal time lost to the pandemic.

The focus of the additional time should be used to support structured literacy, evidence-based mathematic­s and/or profession­al developmen­t.

In her ruling on the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, Judge Sarah Singleton noted significan­t learning opportunit­ies in these extended learning programs, saying we should provide them for all at-risk students. That was the original purpose of the bill in 2021. This past year has been difficult for students, teachers, ancillary personnel, and only about 60 percent of students are signed up for extended learning. It’s important to continue to address these exceptiona­l programs to make them more available to all students as we rebuild our school system.

Santa Fe Public Schools decided to use the Extended Learning Time Program, adding 10 days to the schedule. The district started five days earlier than usual, with the additional five days scattered throughout the school year. But we still have work to do to get teachers and parents on board.

It’s clear that more reform is needed, especially if we compare our state and country to higher performing countries. Those countries provide several hours daily for teacher collaborat­ion; they pay their teachers better, train them better and provide opportunit­ies for teachers to become leaders by working on assessment­s, curriculum and research.

These countries have more robust pre-K programs and provide more timely remediatio­n for struggling students, no matter the grade or issue. We have a long way to go, but at least we are focusing on the right direction: better academic and cultural achievemen­t for all our students.

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