It’s not headline news, but it is a tale of concern: New Mexico ranks 50th in the nation in fourth-grade math proficiency.
It’s tough to refute knowledge matters these days, and that includes children through lifelong-learning adults. And it’s entirely possible that the way math is being taught in Rio Rancho Public Schools is the way it should be doing nationwide.
Thus, the Observer would be remiss if it didn’t cover the “Knowledge Matters Campaign,” which made one of its two stops in New Mexico at Vista Grande Elementary in the City of Vision on April 24-25.
Rio Rancho Public Schools, along with Mesa Vista Consolidated Schools in northwestern New Mexico, recently implemented a high-quality math curriculum, as did school districts in another dozen states.
Folks from Knowledge Matters toured VGE and listened to students in two sessions, getting an in-person view of the New Mexico Public Education Department’s “Math is Me” initiative, highlighting how math is used in everyday life – and encouraging, hopefully, students to see themselves as able to handle math problems when they arise.
And maybe – just maybe – generate enthusiasm among educators about the new math instructional materials and available support.
“We want every New Mexico student to see themselves as a mathematician, and that starts with equitable math instruction,” said the state’s new PED Cabinet Secretary Arsenio Romero. “High-quality math instructional materials and teachers well-supported in their use means that all students will have access to evidence-based practices and the opportunity to meet the dreams of their future.
“We are thrilled to have the Knowledge Matters Campaign spotlight our districts that are models of successful implementation of great instructional materials,” Romero said.
The Knowledge Matters Tour has visited more than three dozen school districts in the U.S. since 2018, including three districts in Delaware in 2022.
RRPS was happy to have the review by Barbara Davidson, president of StandardsWork and executive director of the Knowledge Matters Campaign, who led the tour in what she said was her first visit to New Mexico.
“This is the second adoption of Eureka Math in Rio Rancho Public Schools,” said Janna Chenault, RRPS’s elementary school improvement officer. “We have used Eureka for the past nine years, which is a testament to the quality of the program materials.
“Our students are required to think critically about math by utilizing models and abstract thinking to solve problems. Students are expected to explain the reasoning behind the strategies they choose while problem-solving,” Chenault continued. “Eureka leverages application problems for students to solve real-world problems, integrating math and world relationships. Reading analysis and mathematical vocabulary are essential for solving problems sequentially. Foundational skills are reinforced daily to continually build automaticity and fluency, reducing the cognitive load required by our students to solve math problems.”
Davidson seemed impressed by what she’d seen and heard from educators and students.
“New Mexico’s work has been on the forefront,” said Davidson, whose mother was an English teacher. “Rio Rancho was selected as a district (to visit) because they’re using this great math curriculum, Eureka Math, and they’ve been at it longer than almost anyone else.
“Rio Rancho was one of the first districts in the nation to adopt this curriculum that was built around those Common Core standards,” Davidson said. “It was really built rigorous, so all children could achieve that. The really stunning thing is they have done a phenomenal job implementing that curriculum, building teacher understanding of it and an ability to deliver it well.”
The kids had their opportunity to provide feedback, with Davidson asking questions Tuesday afternoon; five fifth graders were queried, then six third graders were questioned.
The major difference between the two grades was the restlessness of the younger kids, their arms wandering around the table in front of them, their feet kicking back and forth below the table.
Arguably the best response Davidson heard – and something pessimists can take to heart – came from fifth grader Elsie Story: “I always feel like I learn something every day.”
A couple third graders agreed they’d like learning math more if it was taught faster and was harder.
“It’s not an easy curriculum for teachers to learn and implement,” Davidson cautioned. “It’s very rigorous – and I am blown away by the quality of instruction here.”
Hopefully, by the time these young Grizzlies graduate from Cleveland High School, New Mexico will have climbed out of the cellar in math proficiency.
Incidentally, the state is also 50th in reading proficiency for fourth and eighth graders.
But that’s another story.