Nearly 90% of NM schools miss achievement goals

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By Barry Massey

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Nearly 90 percent of New Mexico schools missed the latest targets for boosting student achievement, the Public Education Department reported Friday as it announced plans for replacing the federally mandated system for rating schools.

A total of 720 schools, or 86.6 percent, failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. That's up from 76.7 percent, or 634 schools, last year.

The improvement objectives were met by 111 schools, or 13.4 percent. That compares with 193 schools, or 23.3 percent, last year.

The federal school rating system has long been subject to criticism from educators who consider it too rigid because it takes a pass-or-fail approach rather than measure the progress that students or schools might be making. The system imposes higher student achievement targets each year, making it highly likely that school ratings worsen annually.

Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said the state will ask the federal government this fall to allow New Mexico to use its own school rating system rather than continue with the federally mandated model.

Under a new law enacted this year at the request of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, the state plans to assign grades A to F to schools based mostly on student performance.

"The message couldn't be clearer: our children need education reform now," Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said in a statement. "Educators know almost 87 percent of our schools aren't failing, and that's why we need reforms like our A through F grading system."

Under the current system, schools are evaluated mainly on student performance and participation in math and reading tests administered in grades 3-8 and 11. Other factors in the ratings are graduation rates for high schools and attendance rates for elementary and middle schools.

A school will not meet the adequate yearly progress goal if any one of several subgroups of students — black, white, Hispanic, American Indian, economically disadvantaged or poor, special education and students with limited English language skills — fail to meet performance or participation targets on tests.

The latest test results showed a continued "achievement gap" among ethnic and racial groups in New Mexico. White and Asian students typically fare better in tests than Hispanics, Native Americans and blacks. For example, 67 percent of white students were proficient in reading this year compared with 44 percent for Hispanics and 35 percent for Indians.

Skandera said the latest testing pointed to the need for schools to focus on reading and core subjects. Fifty-three percent of third graders were proficient in reading and 47 percent of fourth graders were.

"These rankings show we're not getting the job done, and that's not acceptable for our children," she said.

Under federal law, states are to increase their performance targets each year until 100 percent of students are proficient on tests by the 2013-2014 school year.

To make the progress goal this year, a school with kindergarten through eighth grade needed 65 percent of its students to be at proficiency or above in math — up from 51 percent last year. Seventy-five percent needed to meet the performance standard in reading, up from 64 percent last year.