New Mexico Looks for Meaning in 5th Year of School Ratings

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Over 30% of the public schools in New Mexico saw a decline in their ratings from the state in the fifth year of the A-F grading system — and Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is trying to put the lower grades in perspective.

During a news conference, Skandera pointed out that almost 70% of the schools remained at the same grade level as they had last year or improved, writes Robert Nott of the Santa Fe New Mexican. She added that the results show the students of New Mexico “are better off than four or five years ago.”

In the Santa Fe District, the grades were worse than the state overall, with over half of its schools scoring a D or F compared to the overall state score of 37% of schools making the same.

Many residents cannot comprehend why the scores were so low, and others say the ratings do not adequately reflect the quality of education at individual schools and give an unfair penalty to schools that have the biggest challenges, such as high numbers of special education pupils and high rates of low-income families.

The head of the American Federation of Teachers in Albuquerque, Stephanie Ly, said the rating system ignores “important factors such as child poverty, overtesting and limited access to early education opportunities.” Skandera responded by saying the teachers union should stop being “naysayers” and start proposing solutions to minimize the learning gaps.

Five schools in the Santa Fe District received Fs in communities where the majority of the pupils are disadvantaged economically. Five schools in the district were rated A schools. But one of those schools, the south-side Piñon Elementary, is in a district where most students are living in poverty.

“A ZIP code does not have to be a determining factor in success,” García said in the statement. “We can have different demographics in our schools and still make progress.”

Skandera noted that 18 schools bettered themselves by three or more letter grades, and almost all are located in rural areas with high numbers of English Language Learners, Native American, or low-income young people.

She added that districts facing challenges have begun to use state programs such as mentoring for teachers and administrators.

“We are not cherry-picking kids,” she said. “These are the kids some have said can’t learn. I fundamentally disagree. These principals are proving that.”

Secretary Skandera explained that children are allowed to move to another school if the school they attend earns a grade of F for at least two of the past four years. The more choices, the better, she says, particularly when a school is not meeting the standard expectations.

Russell Contreras of The Associated Press says that schools in Albuquerque went through some public controversy last year when the new district superintendent was fired only weeks after taking the job. He had hired an official who had been accused of sexually assaulting a child.