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ATC PARCC Press Release 2015

Last year, New Mexico implemented new standardized tests known as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) to assess student achievement. Adopted by New Mexico just 4 years ago, Common Core curriculum in English and math emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving skill development.

The PARCC test scores for New Mexico are in, and one south side charter school is very pleased with the results.  The Academy for Technology and the Classics (ATC) outperformed New Mexico schools, scoring well above the state average.

The PARCC scores are based on a scale of Levels 1-5. (3 - 5 is passing)

·         Level 1: Did not yet meet expectations

·         Level 2: Partially met expectations

·         Level 3: Approached expectations

·         Level 4: Met expectations

·         Level 5: Exceeded expectations

Students who score 4 or 5 on the test meet or exceed expectations under PARCC's raised expectations for New Mexico's standards, and are indicators a student is ready for college or a career.

In all categories including 9th, 10th and 11th grade English, Algebra I and II and Geometry, ATC students had passing scores significantly above New Mexico schools statewide.  College-ready students scoring a 4 or 5 at ATC in all of these same categories outperformed college-ready students throughout New Mexico. 

The following are ATC's passing scores compared to the statewide average:

9th grade English:       ATC   79.1       Statewide  53.1

10th grade English:     ATC   87.3       Statewide  54.0

11th grade English:     ATC   97.5       Statewide  71.9

Algebra 1                    ATC    56            Statewide  44.4

Algebra 2                     ATC    80.8      Statewide   39.8

Geometry                    ATC    76.3       Statewide   44.3   

Any first-time exam has flaws, and PARCC is no exception. PARCC's designers already are modifying various aspects of the assessment to address issues involving everything from technology, to question design and test length.

Countless school administrators across the nation met with resistance to PARCC as parents and students staged protests to opt out of taking these standardized tests. “There was a lot of negative publicity about the PARCC tests, but despite the negative press, ATC students did extremely well considering it was the first year they took them,” said Susam Lumley, principal at ATC.

ATC is a college preparatory public charter school for students in grades six through twelve.  Since becoming principal five years ago, Lumley has been credited with implementing several changes that have increased the school’s academic rigor. 

Asked why she thought the students did so well on the test, Lumley replied, “We have a very strict attendance policy. You can’t teach students if they’re not in school.  We involve the parents very early on in attendance so that they realize that we are a serious school with high academic expectations.”

Chronic student absence reduces even the best teacher's ability to provide learning opportunities. At ATC, if a child is absent five times or more, a meeting is required for both parent and student. If ten absences occur, then the student may lose credit if there is no documentation as to why he or she was absent.

“The student may have an “A” but if he or she did not attend school 90 percent of the time, then we will have a committee meeting to determine whether the student will receive credit. There is a direct correlation between student achievement and good attendance,” Lumley explained.

According to Lumley, another component that contributes to ATC’s success is the robust academic environment teachers and administrators have created.  “We are serious about teaching and learning and so each year when we get new seventh graders, they meld into our culture of learning, which is attributed to our excellent teachers,” said Lumley.

“We have some of the best teachers that I have ever worked with and I have been a principal over 27 years. They are very dedicated and passionate and go the extra mile for our students,” she added.

More than ninety percent of ATC teachers give up their lunch to provide tutoring for students. Additionally, they attend meetings willingly with parents when students are failing with the attitude that it will provide support for the students and ultimately improve their grades.

Lastly, ATC requires students to take a unique College Crew program where about 15 students are assigned to a teacher for six years (provided the teacher doesn’t leave) and that teacher becomes very involved with his or her students and the parents.  College Crew classes meet once a week and students learn everything from leadership and study skills, job interviewing strategies, and how to apply to college to name just a few.

ATC’s motto is “cultivating fearless learners” which proudly displayed on the school’s mini-bus. Lumley believes that when you raise academic expectations and provide quality instruction, students will rise to that level.

“I think that sometimes in other schools the curriculum is dumbed down and the students lose interest especially on a high school level. Research shows that a lot of curriculum that is being delivered in high school is actually at a fifth and sixth grade level,” she added.

At ATC students are required to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. “AP courses are not optional at ATC and because students are taught at that very high level with a lot of support, they perform very well on tests that require critical thinking,” she explained.

The Common Core curriculum was intended to transform American education. Perhaps the key to transformation lies not only with a new curriculum, but a school with teachers and administrators whose primary mission is to raise the bar of excellence in education. ATC seems to be doing just that.

Written by Kathleen Mariel