State expectations higher than most

By Rhonda Seidenwurm: guest columnist

As superintendent of schools in Clovis, it was my pleasure to be a part of the team that provided information to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) group, which visited Clovis earlier this month.

It became apparent to me that the group had some misinformation regarding the relative academic status of New Mexico in general and the Clovis Municipal Schools in particular.

Because the media will be buzzing soon about schools that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), I wanted to take this opportunity to share with our patrons some of the information we shared with the Special Operations Command.

Since every state determines its own standards, some are obviously more rigorous than others. Thus, judgments based on which state has the most students passing the standards, or meeting AYP, mistakenly compare unlike entities.

For example, New Mexico is one of only seven states given an “A” from the Fordham Foundation for the rigor of its science standards (The State of State Science Standards, Thomas Fordham Foundation, December 2005).

In an article in Education Week called Quality Counts 2006 (January 2006), the Pew Charitable Trusts report on education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia ranked New Mexico as one of the top 10 states for its academic standards, assessments, and school accountability (for more information about the Quality Counts 2006 report and individual state reports, go to www.edweek.org/gc06/shr).

Thus, the fact that fewer students are judged “proficient” is to be expected when you understand that New Mexico’s expectations for students are higher than the expectations in most other states.

Given the high level of rigor in New Mexico, the Clovis Municipal Schools are very proud of the fact that our students are outscoring the norm. Of the 16 separate tests given in New Mexico, Clovis students tied the state average in the percentage of students proficient on one test (eighth-grade math) and exceeded the state averages on all 15 of the other tests (http://ped.state.nm.us).

Furthermore, in large schools or large districts there are 37 ways a school can fail to meet AYP.

There are 37 data points or indicators of student learning, which are represented by the all-students group and eight subgroups. Schools serving students in grades 3-9 must also meet an attendance indicator, and high schools must also meet a graduation rate. If the school fails in even one of these areas, it is judged to be failing.

Smaller schools or districts typically do not have enough students to create all of the subgroups or data points, and thus there are not as many opportunities for them to fail. When the AYP data appears this week, I would strongly encourage parents to look not only at whether their child’s school made AYP, but if it did not, why it did not.

Those are fair questions and will give parents a much better look at what the data really show than simply accepting that the school did or did not “fail.”

Parents will want to know whether their child’s school passed AYP — perhaps because it is a small school that is not held accountable for certain groups of students; or if it failed AYP, how many data points it failed.

While we are proud of our students’ academic accomplishments, we are just as proud of our extra-curricular activities and our state and national recognitions. Some of these include:

• A nationally recognized arts academy (Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy), which is being expanded to a larger campus (Bella Vista) this school year.

• A U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School (national recognition for excellence).

• Nationally recognized music programs (top 100 music communities in the nation in 2003 and 2005).

• Exceptional athletic programs for males and females (22 district championships over the past five years).

• Advanced Placement courses in 12 different areas of study.

• Concurrent enrollment for high school students through Clovis Community College.

We are far from perfect, but our commitment is to continuously improve our services to the children whom we serve. I welcome comments.

Rhonda Seidenwurm is superintendent of Clovis Municipal Schools. Call her at 769-4300.