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PED proposes rule changes to toughen accountability

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

In the final weeks under Gov. Susana Martinez, the state Public Education Department is proposing another batch of rule changes, one of which addresses the accountability and intervention of schools.

If approved, the regulation change would put parts of the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan into rule – a point of argument made in an appeal by Albuquerque Public Schools earlier this year.

The rule, which would go into effect Dec. 31, would also limit which schools could opt out of the standardized A-F school grading calculations.

PED has faced criticism and even litigation over the struggling school intervention process thus far, especially for schools designated in need of “more rigourous intervention” or MRI.

Albuquerque Public Schools asked a judge earlier this year to decide whether PED is overstepping its authority in how it has been handling Hawthorne Elementary School’s MRI improvement plan.

APS’ appeal, which was filed in state District Court in August, contended that PED’s Every Student Succeeds Act state plan didn’t go through the process required by state agencies when proposing a new rule and it was not filed with the state records center.

A judge hasn’t made a decision yet on that appeal and it has since been moved to federal court.

PED’s proposed rule change would be the first time the intervention language was placed into rule.

“This proposed rule will be the first school grades rule that aligns to ESSA, and school intervention identification and exit criteria are pieces of school accountability required by ESSA,” PED spokeswoman Lida Alikhani wrote to the Journal in an email.

In September, analyst Tim Bedeaux also recommended to the Legislative Education Study Committee that a school improvement framework be put into state law.

PED’s proposed rule would also rein in which schools are exempt from the typical A-F grading standards – schools called “supplemental accountability model schools” or SAM schools.

Currently, a school with at least 10 percent of students older than 18 or with at least 20 percent of students qualifying for special education services can have different grading measures.

The new rule would up both percentages to 50 percent or more of the student population. And it changes the language from special education services to students who qualify for specific levels of special education.

PED secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski told the Journal the rule aims to make school evaluation more comparable across the state and aims to codify parts of ESSA.

He also said that while there are 36 SAM schools in the state right now, if the rule were approved, that number would go down to about 10.

For instance, he said two APS charters, ACE Leadership High School and Robert F. Kennedy, are currently SAM schools that wouldn’t be eligible under the new requirements.

ACE principal and co-founder Tori Stephens-Shauger said she was still reviewing the rule. RFK charter could not be reached for comment.

The public comment period for the rule is now open. A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 3 in Santa Fe.

This recent rule change is among 18 that have been proposed since January; nine have already been adopted and three others are being finalized.

Rules are not in state statute and can be overturned and changed. But the state must adhere to the rule until going through a replacement and repeal process, which takes at least 100 days.

Michelle Lujan Grisham’s winning the governor’s race is expected to usher in changes to the PED and could result in the overturn of the proposed rules. She has vowed to do away with the current A-F school grading system and put a new system in statute.