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Feds give NM the OK on nixing school grades

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

School dashboards are in and school grades are out.

The U.S. Department of Education has approved school accountability changes in New Mexico’s education plan.

The federal OK was a crucial and required step for the state Public Education Department to actually implement the shift that has been on the table for months.

Following the PED’s initial request from early March, a U.S. Department of Education letter – dated July 2 – allows the agency to forge ahead with school dashboards, a new system that contains a host of information on a school ranging from academic to budgetary.

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PED Deputy Secretary Timothy Hand

Timothy Hand, PED deputy secretary of policy, strategy and accountability, told the Journal that the aim is to launch the school profiles by November.

“We’ll be ready by November 2019,” he said, adding the goal is to fully roll out the concept for all schools at this time.

Former Gov. Susana Martinez had signed into law the school grading system, billed as an easy-to-understand rating for individual schools’ performances. The grades were primarily grounded on student growth in reading and math and measured partly through end of the year exams, including PARCC. Schools that fared poorly for several years in a row faced potential closure.

The system was criticized by many for demoralizing teachers and students at those schools.

While the dashboards won’t contain a school grade, they will show required academic stats such as math and reading proficiency and growth, as well as English language and science proficiency.

“The dashboards will not contain grades for schools but will report all the indicators as required by (the Every Student Succeeds Act),” Hand said.

Chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness and graduation rates will also be available.

Other information Hand is aiming to have in the November rollout includes per-pupil spending, teacher licensure levels, number of counselors at the school and after-school programs.

The school snapshots will have primarily 2018-19 information, according to the deputy secretary. Otherwise, the PED will use the most recent data available.

Some of the information, such as reading and math proficiency and graduation rates, were already available via the previous school grading system. But the other dashboard details are being aggregated by the department.

“We’re going to be pulling that information together here in-house over the next few months,” he said.

There will also be more qualitative information about the school through the new system.

In the spring, a new survey will be released by the PED to assess things like school culture and safety.

“There was an old survey that was only 10 questions and didn’t really address (school) climate in a way that we thought was comprehensive. … It will be used for the dashboard this fall but moving forward we will be using the new survey,” he said.

And schools will likely get a chance to do a write-up to highlight its vision, plans and other initiatives, he said.

“I’m hoping to have an opportunity for schools to provide a narrative that tells the story of their school and then also describes the school’s mission, and vision and values and programmatic offerings at the school,” he said.

Last fall, now-Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had vowed on the campaign trail to move away from single letter grades. And in November 2018 a work group suggested to lawmakers the state use a dashboard concept to replace A-F grading.

Since then, lawmakers passed a Senate bill that outlined the dashboards.

Hand noted that the federal approval from this month also takes school closure off the table for schools that are designated for intervention and New Mexico’s plan also includes titles for schools that show strong school performance.

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