School grades released

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Gov. Susana Martinez announced this year’s letter grades last week for New Mexico’s 839 elementary, middle and high schools. Over 70 percent of New Mexico schools maintained or improved their school grade, with high schools across the state showing the greatest improvement.

Grades are posted on the state Public Education Department website.

In the Socorro Consolidated Schools system, Cottonwood Valley Charter School earned a C; Midway and Parkview elementary schools received D grades; Sarracino Middle School also got a D; San Antonio Elementary School got a B; Socorro High School got a B; and Zimmerly Elementary School got an F.

“There are some celebrations and some disappointments,” said Socorro Consolidated Schools Superintendent Randall Earwood. “I am very pleased with Parkview, they made some great gains this year.”

Earwood said the grading system for schools is an improvement over the No Child Left Behind adequate yearly progress ratings previously used.

“If the AYP ratings had continued, 99.7 percent of the schools would have been considered failing this year,” he said. “The grades are a better indicator process.”

Failing schools are required to have an instructional audit by the state, Earwood said.

PED officials go in and observe classrooms; look at teaching practices; and interview staff, students and parents to try to get a whole picture. Then, based on that data, the district will come up with a plan to improve the school grades.

“They did it at Parkview last year,” Earwood said. “I believe it helped tremendously.”

One of the weaknesses of the system is that the grades are based solely on test scores of different students, he said. For example, the test was based on the third-graders of one year compared to the third-graders of the next year.

“Some will perform well and some will perform not so well,” Earwood said. “There will always be fluctuation.”

Quemado School District elementary schools got Ds and the high school received a B. Reserve Elementary School got a D while Reserve High School got an A.

In Magdalena, both elementary and middle schools received Fs and the high school received a B.

“It’s a huge drop for elementary and middle schools,” said Magdalena Superintendent Mike Chambers. “I am not satisfied by any stretch; we are not seeing the growth we need to see.”

Chambers said the schools implemented some new strategies a couple of years ago and expected to see better results this year.

But he said the grading system points out the flaws in the system. The data the state is currently using compares three years of average growth in the schools.

“We are going to look at those grades seriously,” Chambers said.

Chambers said the grading system is only one of three major changes happening in the schools right now.

The PED also is implementing a new teacher and staff evaluation system in state schools, Chambers said. Teacher evaluations will be based on student achievement growth.

“There is a lot of trepidation on the part of the folks in the classroom,” he said. “In the past evaluation has been based on what people observe in the classrooms.”

The third change is to adhere to the common core standards as established across the U.S.

“You combine all three and you are looking at some significant changes,” Chambers said. “This is where we are going, and this is what we need people to do is step up to the plate.”

He said the teachers and administration at Magdalena schools are working hard and need to look at their workload versus effectiveness.

“We take our jobs very, very seriously,” Chambers said. “We have to look at: Are we spinning our wheels, or is the stuff we are actually teaching what will be on the test?”

But with all the changes and demands being made at the PED level, teaching professionals have become discouraged by standards that sometimes seem impossible to reach.

“I have never seen the exodus from the profession that we are seeing now,” Chambers said. “This is what we have to deal with.”

Chamber said he and his schools have to focus on what they can control and work as best they can with what is asked of them.

“What we have control over is 150 days those kids are in our classrooms,” he said. “And what I can control is what happens here during the time we have them. The bottom line is we can’t afford to waste one minute of one day — we have too much to do.”

This is the second official release of school grades since New Mexico instituted the A-F system in 2011. The 2013 results show that 82 schools earned an A grade while 224 schools achieved a B grade — an increase of 63 schools collectively over the same categories in 2012. The number of D and F schools decreased from 314 in 2012 to 303 in 2013.

“New Mexico’s new A-F system allows us to identify and invest in schools that are struggling, while providing a much more useful and clearer picture to parents and community members of how each of our state’s schools is performing,” Martinez stated in a news release. “Most importantly, these grades place critical emphasis on student achievement and growth, instituting a level of accountability in education that has not existed previously in New Mexico.”

School grade improvements or declines were, in many ways, consistent with the results of this year’s Standards Based Assessment scores, which were released last month. For example, 87 percent of high schools improved their letter grade, in part due to New Mexico 10th- and 11th-graders increasing their reading proficiency by 6.3 percentage points and 9.9 percentage points, respectively.

In addition, New Mexico high schools saw an increase of 7 percentage points in the state graduation rate last year, rising from 63 percent to 70 percent, and more high school students participated in programs designed to improve their readiness for college or the workforce.

To view the grade for a particular New Mexico school, including an in-depth report that breaks down each school’s scoring, visit the Public Education Department website at http://ped.state.nm.us/ped/index.html. Since 2012, over 645,000 parents, community members, students, teachers and school leaders have accessed this website to review the performance of New Mexico schools.