Educators weigh in on school grading system

Staff and wire reports

SANTA FE — Educators on Monday cautioned Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration against rushing the implementation of a new law that will assign grades A to F to rate the performance of public schools.

Teachers, superintendents and others raised questions Monday about proposed rules by the Public Education Department for the school rating system enacted earlier this year.

“I support the concept of an A-F grading system. I’m being cautiously optimistic that we’re going to create something that we can all support that will help the school children of New Mexico,” Clovis Municipal School District Superintendent Terry Myers said.

“The concept is good, but there’s just so many questions that are unanswered. We have supported this from the very beginning; we just need a better understanding,” Myers said.

According to Myers, educators need an explanation from Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera of the actual standards being implemented in the system.

The A-to-F grading system will be based heavily on standardized tests taken by students and on growth of student performance in reading and mathematics. Other factors include elementary school attendance, high school graduation rate and a survey of students.

“This is not a survey to students saying, ‘Do you like your teacher?’ This is asking, ‘What’s happening in the classroom?”’ said Skandera.

Student participation in extracurricular activities and parental involvement also will be factors in determining a school’s grade.

Skandera said the administration will ask the federal government to allow New Mexico to use the new grading plan next year instead of a federally mandated system for rating schools.

Nearly 87 percent of New Mexico schools missed the latest targets for boosting student achievement and failed this year to make “adequate yearly progress” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The department planned to give schools a preliminary grade by the end of this year to help districts understand how the new system will work, according to an agency spokesman.

Comments from the hearing will be considered by the department in developing final rules for the grading program.

Representatives of superintendents and school boards said the administration’s proposal gives too much authority to the department over spending decisions of districts with schools graded D or F. Districts will be required to implement programs recommended by the department for improving student performance.

“We feel that decisions regarding budgets and instructional expenditures in curriculum really are best left to local control,” said Rendon.