Local officials seek more information on state’s grading process

Thomas Garcia

Results of the New Mexico Public Education Department’s new school grading system show all Quay County schools are passing yet have the administrations questioning how the data was compiled.

On Tuesday, Governor Susana Martinez unveiled the preliminary, baseline grades for New Mexico’s schools based on a unique A-F School Grading Law that passed the New Mexico Legislature with bi-partisan support in 2011.

“(The) New A-F system allows us to track improvement and identify struggling schools and students so that we can invest in helping them succeed,” Martinez said.

San Jon Superintendent Gary Salazar said the NMPED did not give the technical data needed for administration to explain the grades to the board of education or parents.

“It’s like they said here’s your grade and trust that it’s accurate and right,” Salazar said. “We don’t have a way to look at the data to see if it is accurate or if we need to dispute anything.”

San Jon High School, the middle school and elementary all received a C in the new grading system. Salazar said while the C is a passing grade it shows the school is at the middle of the road in need of improvement.

“We are not going to be satisfied with the C’s,” Salazar said. “We are going to do all we can to provide the students with the best education.”

Salazar said he would have liked to have known the process used to collect the data and formula for arriving at the grade marks.

“This would be a whole lot easier if I and other administrators knew how to explain the grades and how they came to be,” Salazar said. “Right now all we know is we have been issued C’s.”

The lack of information on how the grades were developed has prompted Tucumcari school officials to appeal a D, which was issued to the elementary.

“There is some data missing from their assessment,” said Assistant Superintend-ent Dave Johnson.

Johnson said an entire section for the state’s grading system on the elementary was missing. He said the missing information could improve the school’s mark from a D to a C and the school has began the appeals process.

“The absence of this information has us wondering about the other data used in the development of these grades,” Johnson said. “We do not know how they arrived at some of their percentages or how their formula works.”

Tucumcari Middle School received a D and the high school an A. Johnson said the marks show success and the need for improvement.

“All of the marks are passing, but we are not going to be satisfied with that,” Johnson said. “We have an outstanding teaching staff, which do all they can to provide the best education for the students.”

Superintendent Ricky Hazen said he was not surprised by the grades Logan received under the new grading system. He said the grades were actually a little higher than he expected in some areas. Logan High School got a C, the middle school a D and the elementary an A.

“Last year we did not make AYP due to our middle school testing,” Hazen said. “I felt that may effect our grade and drop it to an F under the new system.”

Hazen said the baseline grades look a little rough on the area schools, but they provide an idea and blueprint to where improvement is needed.

“We are now set in a position to grow,” Hazen said. “We will do all we can to attack our weak areas so when the new grades are released in summer it should show improvement for our schools.”

Hazen said while he is also interested in learning how the state’s new grading system works, he is confident that it will be a better assessment tool than the previous AYP.

“This is the start of a lot of radical changes to come,” Hazen said “It’s going to be rough starting out, but I feel it’s going to be a far better system than the previous one.”

An education department spokesperson said the release of school grades is considered preliminary because the grades form the baseline from which schools will be measured when the first official release of school grades takes place in the summer of 2012.

In contrast, a centerpiece of the A-F grading system is the measurement of student prog-ress, which accounts for 50 percent of an elementary school’s grade. The A-F system also accounts for differences in factors like income or ethnicity that exist between schools.

“Every community in New Mexico now has the opportunity to see what’s happening in our schools, and how they can help make sure those schools improve by this summer,” said Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera. “For the first time, instead of a shallow snapshot from a single test score, we can measure our schools by how much our students are improving in the classroom.”

Last week, the governor announced that her budget proposal calls for a $5.5 million investment in resources to help schools that receive a D or F grade, while rewarding those that are able to exhibit the highest levels of student progress.

“Thanks to our straightforward new A-F grading system, parents, teachers, and community leaders have a much clearer understanding of where our schools are succeeding and where we need to focus our efforts (and our resources) to improve,” said Martinez. “It allows us to track improvement and identify struggling schools and students so that we can invest in helping them succeed. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that all of our kids can read proficiently and continue to learn; this work is aided by having a more accurate picture of how our schools stack up.”

Under the federal rating system, schools simply receive a passing or failing grade, and unsatisfactory performance in one area of nearly three dozen measurement categories can lead to a school being labeled a failure.

According to that evaluation system, nearly 87 percent of New Mexico’s schools were considered failing, with very little additional information that could be used by parents, teachers, or administrators to determine whether students were progressing in their learning or where a school may need the most help.

The grade report for every public school is available online via an interactive map where parents and students can browse by school district. This online map is located at http://webapp.ped.state.nm.us/SchoolGrading.