SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe’s school board put its support behind a bill introduced in the Legislature last week that calls for a school grades council and would ultimately revamp the state’s A-F school grading system.
“If we’re going to grade schools, we want to do it accurately, effectively and to make sure we’re doing it on the merits of that school,” Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, the bill’s sponsor, said during Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Senate Bill 587 would create a council to study the current school grading system, determine the factors that impact learning and develop a new A-F school grading system.
The state school grading council would be made up of 21 members – three from each of the following groups: classroom teachers, instructional support providers, principals, superintendents, local school boards, charter schools, and other interested parties.
The governor, speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate would each appoint one member from each category to the council.
The school grading council would be administratively attached to the Public Education Department, and would deliver a final report to the Legislative Education Study Committee by Nov. 1, 2014.
A new A-F grading system, if approved by the Legislature, would go into effect for the 2015-16 school year. In the meantime, a temporary grading system would be used.
“In my opinion, we weigh too heavy on standardized-based assessments,” Morales said of the current system.
Under the temporary system, those scores would account for 33 percent of a school’s grade. Another 33 percent would represent “opportunity to learn” factors, although the current use of a student survey to measure that would be discarded.
Morales said the survey generally asks questions specific to a teacher, and students often have more than one teacher. Instead, extracurricular activities, school cleanliness and programs that address childhood obesity were examples of factors that he said could measure “opportunity to learn.”
The remaining 34 percent would utilize opportunity to learn factors for elementary and middle schools, while graduation rates, college career readiness and opportunity to learn would be applied for high schools.
“I want to ensure that we have the opportunity for schools that are offering a well-rounded education, whatever those opportunities are, get credit for that,” Morales said.
The senator said the bill would also ensure that teachers and principals aren’t evaluated based on the grades. Since the current system places the most emphasis on math and reading scores, it wasn’t fair to teachers who teach other subjects, he said.
Morales said another change would be that schools wouldn’t be graded on a curve against all schools across the state. Instead, they would be grouped in clusters based on Title I and U.S. Census poverty indicators.
“Poverty has got to be in the discussion,” he said.
Morales said it wasn’t fair for schools in high poverty areas to be measured against schools in affluent areas. The same was true, he said, for districts that have a high percentage of English Language Learners.
Santa Fe’s school board members had nothing but praise for the plan.
“You’re one of the people who gets it, and you get it in depth,” Glenn Wikle told Morales.
Steven Carrillo said the proposed scheme could cast Santa Fe’s high schools in a more favorable light, because of the variety of programs they offer.
Linda Trujillo, who invited Morales to the meeting, said she thought the plan was “brilliant” and could be used as a model in other states.
Trujillo said she was especially pleased that the proposed grading system took into account poverty. She said a lot of the schools in the district she represents serve students from impoverished families, and the current system penalizes them.
“My concern, and one of the major reasons I really latched on to this, is because I believe that this (current) system doesn’t recognize the hard work that they do … and their growth to the degree that they are growing,” she said.
Morales said the Santa Fe school district is the first one he’s talked to about the proposal, but he plans to meet with school board members statewide at a conference at the Eldorado Hotel on Friday.