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PED against changing schools grading system

The state Public Education Department is pushing back on recommendations to shift the statewide A-F grading system to a dashboard model, calling it a “smoke-and-mirrors approach.”

PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski

PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski

On Nov. 14, the Legislative Education Study Committee heard recommendations from a school grades working group, which has met for over a year, to improve school grades.

The main suggestion was to nix A-F labels and go to a dashboard that has an array of info about a school in addition to academic growth.

But PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski believes the dashboard isn’t what families want and isn’t transparent.

“Taxpayers should be wary of this type of smoke-and-mirrors approach – it is an underhanded way to reduce public accountability and transparency about how our schools are doing,” he wrote in a statement to the Journal.

At the LESC meeting, the working group presenters said the system should shift from focusing on failure, which can demoralize schools, to how districts and the state can help schools.

PED’s statement said the current A-F accountability system, which is grounded on student growth in reading and math measured via PARCC and other tests, was created after a team traveled the state for over a year and got input from “thousands of educators, families and taxpayers.” PARCC and a tour of highly graded schools called the Straight A Express have been signatures of outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

The school grades working group that is recommending the changes to the current system was made up of 26 people, including teachers, superintendents, parents and school board members.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the LESC, said PED was also invited to be a part of the group when it started, but she said the agency did not reply to the invitation.

PED spokesman Christopher Eide said there is no record at the senior level of such an invitation.

Stewart did not provide the Journal the email that invited PED to the working group.

A legislative memorial creating the school working group requires two PED representatives and requires the department to work in consultation with the group. For this, Ruszkowski also blasted the team, saying it didn’t have that required state representation.

Stewart said Suchint Sarangarm, PED chief data strategist, and Matt Pahl, formerly with the PED and now executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools, were part of the school grades working group. Stewart also said meeting notices and documentation are available online.

Ruszkowski had a different take.

“The working group suspiciously met behind closed doors, in secrecy, without any public notice or transparency, without following the memorial,” according to his statement.

The divergent perspectives on the school grade working group occurs as Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham is about to take the helm of the state, including the Public Education Department, which will likely bring changes to school grading, PARCC and the secretary of education position.