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APS Not Alone in Grad Rate Error

By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
       At least two New Mexico school districts besides Albuquerque Public Schools expect to see double-digit increases in their graduation rates when the state finalizes the numbers Friday.
    The state Public Education Department last month announced graduation rates for each district and for the state. According to those numbers, the statewide rate was 54 percent and the APS rate was 46 percent.
    But when the state announces final numbers Friday, the APS number will be between 58 percent and 63 percent, said APS Superintendent Winston Brooks. Brooks has been critical of PED, saying the numbers should not have been released until the data was final.
    Education Secretary Veronica Garcia responded Friday by laying blame with APS, calling the data submitted by the district "poor."
    APS isn't alone.
    Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Stan Rounds said the state initially reported his district's graduation rate was 43.7 percent, but he said Monday he expected the new number would be 54 percent.
    Janel Ryan, superintendent of Farmington Municipal Schools, declined to use specific numbers Monday but said the graduation rate for her district "will change significantly."
    She said the graduation rate initially reported for her district was 51.5 percent.
    The state's graduation rate calculations were based on data self-reported by districts. PED spokeswoman Danielle Montoya said although Albuquerque, Farmington and Las Cruces will change substantially, many districts will stay the same or see small changes.
    "That's three districts out of 89," she said, adding that about 30 percent of districts will see no change at all, while another 30 percent will change less than 5 percentage points.
    Brooks, Rounds and Ryan each told the Journal their districts tried to make corrections to the graduation data before the rates were announced Aug. 3. All three said their districts submitted changes not reflected in the August number.
    Montoya said those districts missed the state's June deadline to make corrections.
    "They've been working on this data review since September of 2008," Garcia said Monday. "At some point there comes a place where you have to go report your data."
    Rounds and Brooks maintain they met the deadline to submit corrections and that the data's release was harmful to the public's perception of their districts. Ryan said her district might have missed the deadline.
    "I would have hoped that we would have shaken out the system and figured out what the problems were previous to publication of the data," Rounds said. "We're now dealing with the aftermath. I'm afraid it creates at least public misunderstanding of the data."
    Garcia said the numbers had to be released in August because under the No Child Left Behind Act parents must find out whether their child's school made Adequate Yearly Progress in time to find a different school if it didn't.
    "We have always said this was preliminary data," she said.
    While the department did refer to the rates as preliminary when the figures were released, PED chief statistician Cindy Gregory told the Journal in August that the statewide cohort figures "might go up or down a percent" as schools reviewed their rates.
    The dismal rates announced by Garcia at the August news conference were the basis for Gov. Bill Richardson's "Graduate New Mexico" initiatives that call for spending $8.9 million in federal stimulus dollars on more education reforms.
    Garcia said the initiatives are still important, and these new numbers should not change the state's approach to the issue.
    "The bottom line is we still have a graduation problem. Even with the increase in graduation rates, we have a problem statewide," she said. "Our sense of urgency needs to continue."

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