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4 schools get failing grades on standards

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By Jennifer Garcia

There’s something amiss with Los Alamos Public Schools.

For the second year in a row, Los Alamos High School has failed to meet adequate yearly progress, yet the school was recently awarded a silver medal by U.S. News and World Report for the third straight year.

Three other schools, Barranca Elementary, Mountain Elementary and Los Alamos Middle School, also failed to meet AYP this year.

This is the first time since 2007 that Barranca has not met AYP requirements. It’s the second time Mountain has not met requirements — they also failed in 2007.

Los Alamos Middle School met the requirements in 2008 and 2009, but came up short in 2007.

Los Alamos high school has only met requirements once — in 2008 — during the four-year period.

Even though the federal government mandates through No Child Left Behind that schools should meet proficiency standards by 2014, that may not be a reasonable goal for some schools. LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt said the government’s goal may be attainable by his school district, but it’s probably unrealistic.

“We’ll strive to do as well as we can,” he said. “We’re working on identifying and tracking academic growth. Everybody should benefit from being in the LAPS school system.”

Of the 1,771 students who took the test, 70 percent were proficient in math, 80 percent were proficient in reading and more than 90 percent were proficient in science. In fact, high school students improved 12 percent in math.

In Special education, however, there was not as much growth.

“Special education is improving, but not as fast,” Schmidt said. “There are faulty conclusions (in the AYP system) that everyone can be perfect, but everybody can be perfect to their potential. We should have our own definition of what perfect is.”

Schmidt said a growth model is needed based on value-added because children come in at different levels.

“There are sad statistics in being so close. The challenge is what are you going to do about it?” he said.

He feels that revisiting the curriculum might help get LAPS where it needs to be.

“In aligning the curriculum, we know that what each teacher will be teaching aligns with New Mexico’s curriculum,” Schmidt said. “We’ve just introduced new reading and writing curriculums and we’re looking at a new curriculum for special education that will provide ability appropriate levels. We’ll find where they (special education students) are and move them forward.”

As part of the LAPS’ plan of growing children into the district’s level of rigor, 96 out-of-district students were accepted this year from kindergarten through 8th grade. No out-of-district high school students were accepted in part because of construction on campus.

“We wanted predictable enrollment so we could staff for that. We were also concerned with the limited amount of space,” Schmidt said.

Secretary to the Assistant Superintendent Gayla Romero said the process of accepting out-of-district students has nothing to do with academics.

“It’s done on a first-come, first-serve basis. We take a lot of special needs students. We don’t discriminate at all,” she said. Though the schools did not meet AYP standards, the outlook isn’t entirely gloomy because data shows that LAPS students performed at a higher rate than the year before.

“We educate our children at a high rate. ACT test scores show we’re at a higher level than anyone in New Mexico,” Schmidt said. “Our scores were higher than New Mexico and the rest of the nation. We have the lowest number of students that have to take remedial classes in college.”

Schmidt also said the graduation rate is climbing.

In 2008, 81.6 percent of students graduated with their class on time.

In 2009, the number was even higher: 88.9 percent graduated.

Schmidt is not discouraged by the performance.

“We can be on AYP and still be proud of what we’re doing,” he said. “Those things that caused us to be on AYP are improving.”