Santa Fe Public Schools outperformed New Mexico schools overall in the latest round of state grades, which weighed in the dismal results of last spring’s new standardized PARCC tests and saw 40 percent of schools faring worse than last year.
State Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera on Friday released the latest round of scores through the state’s A-F grading system for more than 800 public schools, saying the scores reveal a state in need of improvement.
About a third of elementary and middle schools received lower grades than last year. High schools fared worse. About 3 in 5 high schools received a lower grade, including Santa Fe High, which fell from a D to an F, due to a high number of students who didn’t participate in PARCC testing.
But Superintendent Joel Boyd said Friday he is leery of the Santa Fe school grades because some of the state’s data conflict with the district’s.
According to The Associated Press, the number of New Mexico schools graded an A or B dropped 10 percent this year, to 297 schools from 332 in 2014, while the number receiving a D or F climbed 3 percent, to 333 from 323 last year.
School grades normally come out during the summer, but they were delayed this year because PARCC scores were slow to be calculated and released. The tests results, released in October, showed only about 1 in 4 New Mexico students scored proficient in reading and math.
Boyd said Engage Santa Fe, a program for students who have returned to school after dropping out of traditional high school, has no data, yet it received an F from the state. He also said Wood Gormley Elementary School received near perfect scores, which raises suspicion. The school is one of the best in the district, he said, but every school is in need of improvement. Boyd said he plans to appeal the state grades.
“You see enough here in the data that raises the alarm,” Boyd said.
He also said the Mandela International Magnet School received an F, even though it only had one year’s worth of data to examine in the grading process, rather than three years’ worth, which is standard.
Leighann Lenti, a deputy secretary at the Public Education Department, said the state agency reached out to Santa Fe schools multiple times regarding a lack of data from Engage. She also said federal and state laws require all students to take an assessment to gauge their progress.
“We used the data available to us,” Lenti said, which was no data for Engage. Hence, the F grade.
This is the first year that the state grades reflect the new standardized PARCC exams, which stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The partnership is a consortium of states that are using the tests to grade students on the widely adopted new Common Core Standards. Skandera has said the tests are more difficult than the state’s previous standardized exams, the Standards Based Assessments, and said they provide a more accurate assessment of students’ abilities.
“We have to get honest,” Skandera said at a news conference Friday at the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science, a charter school that received an A. “These D’s and F’s tell us there’s room for improvement.”
The state’s system of grading schools from A to F has been used since the 2010-11 school year. Skandera said this year saw the highest numbers of A’s and F’s. And about 1 in every 4 schools received a C. The state considers student performance, individual student growth and the growth of both the highest-performing and lowest-performing groups of students when calculating school grades. The evaluation system also uses three years’ worth of student test data.
The Santa Fe school district did slightly better than the state, on average. Six of the district’s schools improved and 13 maintained the same grade, about 70 percent of schools. Eight schools earned lower grades than last year. Six Santa Fe schools earned F’s, five earned D’s, seven C’s, six B’s and four A’s.
César Chávez, Nava and Sweeney elementary schools all improved from a D to B.
Theresa Liebert, the principal of Sweeney Elementary, said she was thrilled with her school’s grade. She said the school’s revamped bilingual program was partially responsible for the improvement. Liebert also said she hired a dean of students and a literacy and a math coach to provide more individual assistance for struggling students.
Kearny and Salazar elementary schools maintained F ratings. Also on the district’s F list this year are Chaparral Elementary, De Vargas and Ortiz middle schools, and Santa Fe High. That’s the lowest grade the high school has received since Skandera implemented the grading system. Boyd said the grade should have been a D, but not enough students took the PARCC exams last spring, so the state docked it one letter grade.
Skandera repeatedly had said students were likely to score poorly on the controversial PARCC tests last spring, given the newness and academic rigor of the exams. And she said lower scores didn’t mean the state’s children were doing worse, merely that the state was raising its standards to better prepare students for careers or college.
Some school administrators have argued the PARCC results shouldn’t immediately be used for teacher evaluations or school grades. But Skandera said the state weighted student growth on tests more than students’ overall test scores.
Skandera said one of the benefits of PARCC is that multiple states use the exam, but in the past year, many have ditched PARCC. Twenty-six states used to be part of the partnership, but only 11 states and the District of Columbia used the test in the 2014-15 school year. Regardless, Skandera said New Mexico will stick with PARCC.
“There’s no question,” she said. “The worst thing to do would be to bring in a new assessment.”
Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CQuintanaSF.