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This bit of education jargon has hung like a sword over schools and educators since the Bush administration introduced No Child Left Behind in 2001. In an attempt at accountability, the yardstick called Annual Yearly Progress was supposed to push schools and students toward improvement. But in design and implementation, it guaranteed that most schools would eventually not make AYP.
So it’s hard to get excited about the new initiative, letter grades for schools. The governor considers it one of her education reform planks, and it won support from Democratic education leaders in the Legislature. Sen. Cynthia Nava, chair of the Senate Education Committee, supported the idea because it recognized growth and not just the watermark of proficiency.
To understand why grading a school A to F might work, first consider why AYP doesn’t work.
Think about your work. Let’s say there are 37 standards you must reach to be considered competent, and you reach 34 or 35, which makes you incompetent.
But wait! You’re good at what you do, you say. Sorry, those are the rules, and the bar gets higher every year.
Making AYP means that more students reach proficiency goals in reading and math and that students in eight groups, including English-language learners and special education, must also reach those goals. High schools are also judged on graduation rates and elementary schools on attendance.
Out of 37 measures, a school can meet standards in 36 and still fail. Each year the requirements for making AYP are more difficult.
Under the law passed this year, grades for schools would be based on test scores (New Mexico standards-based assessments for high schools), improvement in reading and math, and improvement by the lowest 25 percent of students in reading and math. High schools would also be judged on graduation rates, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, dual enrollment courses, and SAT and ACT scores.
So it’s entirely possible that a school not making AYP could earn a respectable letter grade.
To the jaded and weary veterans of previous reforms, letter grades just look like another way of telling a school it’s failing, but proponents see it as a more equitable way to take the measure of a school and its students.
During the legislative session, Rep. Dennis Roch, an East Side Republican who carried one of the letter-grade bills, argued: “We’re trying to get the communities to understand what they need to do. It’s not necessarily true that a school that’s not making AYP will make an F.”
Rep. Ray Begaye, a Shiprock Democrat and former teacher, said, “Coming from a poor community where failure has always been an option, I kind of support the intent of the legislation, but I’m troubled by it as well.” Reservation schools have more obstacles to success than most.
Said Roch, “The underlying goal is to make the measure of school success achievable by students and understandable to students and community.” The school could then identify the students who aren’t proficient and work with them. The measures would “capture the growth of our students.”
New Mexico’s initiative was inspired by the Florida A+ Plan, which began in 1999. In 10 years, schools receiving a D or F declined from 677 to 217; schools receiving an A increased from 515 to 2,317. Florida has shown many enviable improvements, but that state also hired 2,000 reading coaches, reduced class sizes, and stopped passing third graders who couldn’t read.
And there’s the rub – the same old rub – money. Just think what we could do with 2,000 reading coaches! But there was no appropriation, and we all know by now what’s happening to education budgets.
AYP, unfortunately, would still be with us, but at least it would be muted.