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Editorial: Simplify A-F Grading Formula To Get Buy-In

When a group of scientists and mathematicians are left scratching their heads, it’s unlikely parents and some educators will be able to decode the state’s new A-F grading system, either.

The nonpartisan Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education has been promoting science education and literacy in New Mexico since 1997. It recently undertook the challenge of trying to replicate the grading formula designed by the state Public Education Department to rank schools.

It couldn’t, partly because it didn’t have all of the data the PED used, but the group concluded the formula is too complex, adds together incompatible elements and is so sensitive to small changes that unreasonable grade swings from one year to the next can result.

“We’re not talking about a bunch of schmucks here who haven’t seen this stuff before,” said M. Kim Johnson, a retired physicist and an author of the report. “We think it’s all probably above board, but we don’t think the average person, school principal or superintendent could conceivably follow it.”

While Johnson said he doesn’t think the grading system should be dumbed down to a basic level, he thinks it could be simplified.

PED Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera defended the system, saying it is complicated because it attempts to capture the many elements that make a high-quality school. She said people around the state wanted school grades to reflect issues such as race and poverty.

Skandera said the PED will release a grade calculator in September that will allow schools to see how fluctuations in test scores translate to letter grades.

Democrats in the Legislature including Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, who chairs the House Education Committee and who asked the group to review the system, urged the PED to adopt the group’s recommendations. Those include simplifying and seeking an independent review of the formula and providing grading data and software to districts.

If the PED wants buy-in from the folks who are tasked with educating New Mexico students and from parents who want to see their children succeed, then it should make the formula behind the grades more understandable — and not just to policy wonks.

That doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath water, but getting everyone on the same page might go a long way to real education reform in New Mexico.

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.