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Brooks Sets Goals for APS

By Hailey Heinz
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent Winston Brooks wants to raise the district's graduation rate from 46 percent last year to 61 percent by 2012.
        He also wants to reduce the number of students who are not proficient in math and reading by 10 percent each year through 2012.
        Those goals, as well as others dealing with truancy and the achievement disparity between minority and Anglo students, were approved this week by the APS school board.
        Brooks began setting targets specific to APS last year, offering them as an alternative to the goals mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
        "I am much more concerned about seeing a school grow (academically) than I am about hitting some arbitrary target that is established by NCLB," he said.
        No Child Left Behind mandates that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
        Last year, Brooks' goal was a districtwide increase of three percentage points in student performance on standardized math and reading tests. Schools also set individual goals for improvement.
        Of the seven grade levels tested, four hit the APS target last year for reading improvement and six hit the target for math improvement.
        Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said setting realistic goals for the district is better than relying on Annual Yearly Progress standards under No Child Left Behind.
        "I think that makes sense," she said, adding that she has not yet discussed the targets with teachers. "But I do know that setting a reasonable, obtainable goal for improvement is something that teachers would like and they would embrace."
        Terri Cole, president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said the targets are a good starting point but the community should strive for even greater improvement
        "We appreciate Winston's effort to move the needle in the right direction," she said. "We look forward to additional strategies that will deliver even better results by 2012. We have a long way to go to narrow the achievement gap and lower dropout rates, and we as a community need to be aggressive."
        Brooks said the formula used to create the APS targets is more useful than federally mandated goals because it takes a school's current performance into account and aims for realistic growth. He used fourth-grade math scores as an example.
        "So we went from 39 to 44," he said, referring to the percentage of students who were proficient in 2008 and then in 2009. "The statewide target is 50. We made an improvement of five percentage points, but we still didn't make the AYP target. According to AYP, we would still be failing, even though we made a five percentage point improvement."
        The targets approved at Wednesday's meeting also address the district's graduation rate, which is currently at 46 percent, according to the state Public Education Department. Brooks said he seeks to apply the same formula to the graduation rate as he did to test scores, seeking to cut the number of students who fail to graduate by 10 percent each year.
        Put another way, Brooks hopes to raise the APS graduation rate to 61 percent by 2012. He said although that might seem like a low number, it is a good one.
        "I believe professionally, with all of my experience in education, that a 5 percent gain each year is sufficiently ambitious."
        The targets also seek to shrink the difference between Anglo proficiency in math and reading and the proficiency of minorities and poor students. The goal is to decrease the difference by 5 percent a year, a goal the district met last year for black students but not for Hispanic, Native American or poor students.
        Truancy is also addressed in the targets, with the aim of decreasing truancy by one percentage point each year.

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