It is important to emphasize at the outset that the new A-F school grading system is a work in progress. It should be. Just as one-size-fits-all doesn’t work when it comes to educating students, one-grading-system-fits-all won’t work when it comes to measuring school performance.
So it is heartening that the Public Education Department emphasized last week that the just-released grades are preliminary and the department will look to learn from the current appeals process. In the words of spokesman Larry Behrens, “As we continue to work with charters and other schools, we hope there will be a focus on the data that best helps each one improve student achievement.”
Yet it is even more important to remember that improving student achievement, and holding schools and educators accountable for doing that, should be the beginning and the end and the middle to the discussion.
Under the old system of No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress, parents, educators and taxpayers were given a single snapshot in time of whether students in grades 3-8 and 11 were proficient in reading and mathematics — or not.
A-F builds on that system and uses three years of data when possible for a fuller picture of whether students are improving. That gives teachers and schools the credit they deserve for bringing up students who entered their classroom a grade level or two behind, even if they don’t quite get to proficient. And for not allowing proficient students to languish but pushing them to reach their potential.
The new system also breaks out how much the highest three quarters of students improve as well as how well the bottom quarter of students advances. That uses pure performance to show whether a group of children is in fact being left behind because a school is focusing on one group at the expense of others.
So while it is important to consider adjustments when grading high schools that serve at-risk students — four-year graduation rates and college prep courses aren’t as important to those students as achieving proficiency and staying on track to receive a diploma — those schools and their missions are the exception rather than the rule. It is also important going forward to move beyond two subjects and seven grade levels when evaluating schools; that inadequacy is epitomized in high school grades, which are based in great part on a test given to just one-fourth of students.
But it is most important to recognize A-F puts New Mexico’s education emphasis where it belongs, on student improvement.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.