Clovis school officials question ratings

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Clovis school officials are worried that new legislation has created unfair assessment standards.
During a special administrator’s meeting on Monday called to address new federal legislation and tightened state rules, Clovis superintendent Neil Nuttall said the rules led to four Clovis schools — W.D. Gattis Junior High, Parkview Elementary, Cameo Elementary and Bella Vista Elementary — being placed on probationary status.
Bella Vista Elementary was also on probation in 2001.
In a worst-case scenario, continued probationary status could lead to a state takeover. According to Ladonna Clayton, assistant superintendent of instruction, the state has many options to correct a school that stays on probation for four years, ranging from state recommendations for specific administrative, faculty, or program changes to a direct takeover of the school that would remove it from control of the local board.
Administrators don’t expect it to happen at Clovis, but state law also provides even more severe penalties.
“There is a chance that an entire district could be put on probation for not making adequate yearly progress and we could become a probationary district,” Clayton told the administrators. “That’s new, we’ve never had a rating for the whole district before.”
Nuttall said the new state rules stem from President George Bush’s federal education initiative, “No Child Left Behind,” which requires each state to develop its own set of measurable standards to assess and evaluate its schools and school districts. While 163 New Mexico schools are on probation and 43 schools are currently at the worst evaluative level — corrective action after four years of probation — Nuttall said the new rules could lead to even more schools being placed on probation.
“They are expecting 70 percent of the schools in New Mexico to be rated probationary,” Nuttall said. “We have really made it tougher on ourselves than we need to.”
Nuttall said he expects legislative action will prevent that.
“With any major reform initiative, and I’ve seen several in other states, you have three or four years of corrections and clarifications being made by the legislators to correct things in the legislation,” Nuttall said.
A key part of the problem, according to Nuttall, is that the new legislation no longer concentrates on such factors as overall graduation rates and now requires satisfactory academic progress not only by the school’s general population but also by each of five ethnic subgroups — whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and blacks; and three other subgroups — special education students, English as a second language students, and free and reduced lunch students.
“So if one of these groups is not making adequate yearly progress, even if I have a 96 percent graduation rate, and all these other indicators are fine, I am still performance-warned?” asked Clovis High School principal Andy Sweet.
The answer, Clayton said, is yes.
“It’s difficult to share all this with you because it’s probably the biggest paradigm shift I’ve ever seen, and it is all tied into the federal ‘No Child Left Behind’ legislation,” Clayton said. “They interpret that to mean that no subgroup will fail to make progress toward performing.”
“I don’t know how riled up to get the troops, because I think this will rile them up,” Sweet said.
While Nuttall and Clayton said the district will work hard to identify subgroups with academic problems and provide specialized services to reach them, both said contacting legislators is critical. Clayton supported a “safe harbor” provision that would allow a school with deficiencies in only a small number of subgroups to stay off probation if other standards are met.