Lawmakers question new grading system

Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, says the Public Education Department's new grading system does not reflect the great schools in her district who received failing grades.

CMI staff photo: Christina Calloway

Rep. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, asked Public Education Department officials about their new A-F grading system Thursday at Eastern New Mexico University. He suggested the new system does not promote growth especially among low-performing schools.

Sen. Stephen Fischman, D-Mesilla Park, says the new grading system in an improvement from the Adequate Yearly Progress state schools were previously being graded with.

Stewart and Fischman were among state lawmakers who had questions about the state's new grading system Thursday during the second of three days of the Legislative Education Study Committee meeting in Portales.

Lawmakers, educators and the public had the opportunity to discuss the new system with the PED Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera and Director of Assessment and Analysis Pete Goldschmidt. PED officials released state-wide grades two weeks ago.

"We are basing our data on one test," Stewart told Skandera angrily. "I have really good schools in my district that scored below a C and that's because they're in a poverty-stricken area."

Stewart said the new system is not that much better than AYP and that some of the areas of the systems are similar.

"You have set up school growth targets the same way as AYP," Stewart told PED officials. "You're setting the same standards as I believe are unreachable."

Stewart said parents and teachers will not be able to understand the A-F grading system. She said the schools in her district primarily consist of working-class people and they typically do not score well.

"The PED took almost no input from (education committee)," Stewart said. "It's only going to produce problems."

Educators thanked Stewart for her honesty and expressed their discontent for the new grading system as well. They said their schools were better than the grades they were given and asked PED officials if they could revise the grading system.

Skandera said 98 percent of New Mexico schools would be failing under the No Child Left Behind act or AYP grading system. According to Skandera, only 8 percent of New Mexico schools received an F grade under the new system.

"The gap between 8 percent and 98 percent is remarkable and noteworthy," Skandera said.

She added that the new system is beginning to capture complexities beyond what a standardized test would.

"We want more to capture so we can have an accurate picture of what's going on in our schools," Skandera said. "With the old system, many students were left behind."

Goldschmidt said New Mexico's A schools did better than those schools who made AYP but others felt that underprivileged schools who aren't making passing grades are set up to fail.

Rep. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, agreed with Stewart that the new system does not promote growth and pushes schools toward C grades.

"When you're not making improvements under the system, you're actually moving backwards," Morales told fellow lawmakers and PED officials.

He asked Skandera why grades were released before the new grading manual was printed. Skandera replied they issued grades early so that schools can prepare for the next school year.

Morales added that school administrators should not be left in the dark about changes and should be up to date on the new manual.

Fischman said the new grading system was risky but better than the old one.

"If you like A-F grading system or not, clearly it's a motivation," Fischman said. "It feels like the right way to o and with that, it's our job to make it work.

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