Grades for schools don’t tell whole story

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The state grades handed down to individual schools are not the “total picture” of education in Socorro, said Randal Earwood, the new superintendent of Socorro Consolidated Schools.

The grades, which were handed down earlier this week as part of Gov. Susana Martinez’s new school assessment program, are supposed to identify areas that schools need to improve upon. In Socorro, school grades were a mix of good and bad, improvement and decline. The primary concern for Earwood was the F that Parkview Elementary received, one of 69 in New Mexico.

“I don’t believe the F grade is a true reflection of that school,” he said.

He added teachers and administrators are doing “some great things” at Parkview specifically and the school district in general actually showed growth. Midway, San Antonio and Zimmerly elementary schools all improved their letter grades from the previous school year and Socorro High School retained a B grade, according to report cards released through the education department.

Earwood said the school district would take a closer look at the data the state provided to glean a better understanding of the needs of each school. There’s always something the district can do to improve student learning though, he said.

Since the school is operating on a tight budget for this upcoming school year, making improvements on a school in need will be a challenge. Earwood cited 21 Century grants — a form of federal funding for schools — as an opportunity to improve student learning.

He also said the district might adjust the budget so some funding initially slated for other schools would be redirected to Parkview. Additional state funding for schools with a D or F grade could be coming, he said. If that’s the case, Parkview, Zimmerly and Sarracino Middle School would be in line for some state money.

Several factors contributed to Parkview’s poor showing in the eyes of the state. The F, according to report cards released by the state, is an overall grade based on that school’s performance in six different areas:

  • Current Standing, which grades how well students compared to other proficient students across the state in the most recent school year;
  • School Growth, which notes if students who are in any given grade level this year improved from students who were in that grade level last year;
  • Growth of Highest Performing Students, which tallies the improvement of the top 75 percent of students;
  • Growth of Lowest Performing Students, which does the same for the bottom 25 percent;
  • Opportunity to Learn, which tries to quantify how schools “foster an environment that facilitates learning” and if students want to attend every day; and
  • Bonus Points, which measures if a school provides “exceptional encouragement for involving students and teachers in education,” according to the report cards.

All these areas are assigned a letter grade and a number of points that contribute to the overall score, which is out of 100. This more in-depth data helps to paint a clearer picture of the state of education in Socorro.

In terms of School Growth, the six schools in the district are not performing well. Parkview, Zimmerly and Cottonwood Valley Charter schools all received F grades. Sarracino and Midway received Ds. San Antonio Elementary was the lone bright spot with a B. School Growth is not measured in high schools, but graduation rates and college/career readiness is. Socorro High School scored a C and a B in those two areas, respectively.

The next two, Growth of Highest and Lowest Performing Students, is not so clear-cut. Cottonwood Valley, Sarracino and the high school all scored high in the improvement of the top three-fourths of their student body, but all three received Fs for the bottom quarter. Midway and San Antonio had an average score for both. Parkview scored low on both.

Zimmerly Elementary scored an F on the improvement of their highest-performing students but a B on the improvement of their lowest performing students. Zimmerly, Parkview and Cottonwood Valley Elementary Schools have a significantly larger population of students with special education needs than Midway and San Antonio elementary schools.

In regards to Opportunity to Learn, five schools in the district received high marks. The high school received a C.

Lastly, Bonus Points manifest themselves in the form of community outreach and mentoring programs. This is the only section that is not awarded a letter grade. Zimmerly, Sarracino and San Antonio were given a score of 0 out of 5 while the remaining schools had scores close to 1.

According to a guide for the new A-F grading system from the New Mexico Public Education Department, the above areas are all judged on certain conditions. The state realized “schools serve different populations” and “student performance is influenced by many factors,” according to the guide.

By accounting for the different challenges and circumstances of each school, the state hoped to “level the playing field” in terms of determining how much a school contributes to a student’s performance, according to the guide.

“We take into account as many influences on student academic achievement,” reads the guide, “that schools cannot reasonably be expected to control, as possible, and limit what we include to what research indicates is meaningful and by what data are reliably available.”

The influences mentioned in the guide include gender, race and ethnicity and school size. Whether a student has a disability, has difficulty with the language used to teach, or has been in school for a full academic year are also variables kept in mind, according to the guide.