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State’s high schools get big bump in grades

State education chief Hanna Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez announce A-F school grades Thursday.  (adolphe pierre-louis/journal)
State education chief Hanna Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez announce A-F school grades Thursday. (adolphe pierre-louis/journal)
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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s report card is in, and it shows that more schools received A and B grades, and fewer got D’s and F’s. The improvements were particularly pronounced among the state’s high schools.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, all 13 comprehensive high schools earned A’s and B’s, and all but two of them improved over last year.

But slightly more APS elementary and middle schools saw their grades drop than rise. According to APS, 20 of the district’s 89 elementary schools improved their grades, 46 remained the same and 23 went down. Among middle schools, five improved, 14 stayed the same and eight dropped.

Statewide, 87 percent of high schools improved their grades.

That makes sense, because Standards-Based Assessment scores released two weeks ago showed strong growth among high school juniors. The state’s graduation rate also improved significantly between the classes of 2011 and 2012, up from 63 percent to 70 percent.

Grades for high schools are based on test scores, test score improvement, graduation rates and other factors like the number of students who take Advanced Placement classes or college preparation tests like the pre-SAT or the PLAN – which serves as a pre-ACT.

The rate of students taking these courses and tests went up over the past year, partly because the state paid for sophomores to take the PSAT. PSAT participation increased by more than 11 percent, and PLAN participation was up by about 20 percent. Enrollment in AP classes rose by more than 5 percent.

Elementary and middle school grades are based almost entirely on the SBA test. Grades include a simple measure of how many students score at proficient or above on the tests, as well as measures of how much the school’s test scores improved and specifically how much the lowest-scoring students improved. That extra emphasis is intended to give schools an incentive to close the achievement gap.

Gov. Susana Martinez said Thursday in a news release that the grades are a useful way to hold schools accountable.

“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,” she said. “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 grades were established by statute in 2011 and this is the third time grades have been released. The grades have been controversial in some quarters, with critics contending the formula used to calculate them is too complex for most people to understand and that the grades fluctuate significantly from one year to the next.

Specifically, a nonpartisan group of scientists and mathematicians released a report last summer saying it was unable to replicate the formula. A Journal analysis also found that, despite efforts in the grading formula to control for poverty and other demographic issues, low-income schools still tended to get lower grades and vice versa.

The school grades replaced measures of “adequate yearly progress” that were used to assess schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. School grades are part of the waiver New Mexico received from the act. Last year, $3.5 million was spent helping schools that received low grades. The state provided about 2,000 teachers and principals with training on how to turn schools around. In the coming year, $4 million has been set aside to continue that effort.

State education chief Hanna Skandera said the results are encouraging, but there is still room to improve.

“We have lots of work to do, but we also know that we’re seeing some really good improvements,” she said Thursday. “Our high schools showed the highest increase by far.”

Statewide, not a single high school received an F.

The overall distribution of grades this year is 82 A’s, 224 B’s, 230 C’s, 218 D’s and 85 F’s. Statewide, 71 percent of schools either maintained or increased their grades.

APS, which educates more than one-fourth of the state’s public school students, generally aligns with state trends. Superintendent Winston Brooks said in a news release that he is especially pleased with progress of the high schools. “I am very pleased that 11 of 13 high schools improved their grades,” he said. “The teachers, administrators, students, staff and parents of our high school community should all be very proud of the gains they have made over the past year.”

He attributed the high school gains to district reforms like the AVID program, which helps students in the “academic middle” prepare for college, and expanded opportunities for students to take classes and make up credits outside the school day.

Brooks said the district will examine the data on elementary and middle schools to see how grades at those levels can be improved. “We will continue to analyze the data and make changes to improve the academic programs at the elementary and mid-school levels,” he said in a release.

None of APS’ elementary and middle schools received A grades. Fourteen elementary schools and one middle school – Harrison – received F’s.

In Rio Rancho, Rio Rancho High and V. Sue Cleveland High earned top marks. None of the district’s elementaries received an A, but all received a grade of B or C, with the exception of Maggie Cordova Elementary. That school’s grade dropped from a B to a D.

Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland said Maggie Cordova’s grade does not tell the entire story. She said the school still outperforms the statewide average and some of the schools in the Rio Rancho district, but it saw no growth over last year.

Middle school grades remained flat, with each of the district’s four schools earning the same grade they did last year. Lincoln, Mountain View and Rio Rancho received a B, while Eagle Ridge received a C.

Journal staff writer Elaine D. Briseño contributed to this report.

 

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