NM Senate OKs bill to give schools A-to-F grades

-A A +A

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposal by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to assign grades from A to F to rate New Mexico's public schools cleared the Senate on Wednesday.

Supporters said the grades will provide better information to parents about the quality of their local schools.

"Whenever we can objectively put our rating system out there that people understand and can rally around and put their resources to work to improve ... the educational programs that are out there for our students, I believe we're going to show a significant improvement in achievement for our students," said Sen. Vernon Asbill, R-Carlsbad, a former school superintendent.

The bill passed the Senate on a 23-11 vote and goes to the House, where a similar proposal was approved Wednesday by the House Education Committee. The Legislature ends Saturday but there's still time for the two chambers to agree on the grading bill.

The grading system will be based on standardized tests taken by students and on growth of student performance in reading and mathematics. Other factors include the high school graduation rate.

Under the legislation, parents of a student in a school rated F for two years can send their child to any public school that's not failing or they can use an online "cyber academy" in New Mexico.

Opponents said the legislation left too many details to the Public Education Department, such as developing the standards for what constitutes each of the A-to-F grades. An advisory group of school district superintendents will have a voice in developing those guidelines.

"I think this is an experiment that basically has no legislative parameters on it," said Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque.

He warned that the grading system will be a "catastrophe for poor school districts" and said it's an "unfunded mandate" because the Legislature hasn't earmarked money to pay for programs to help struggling schools.

The legislation originally called for financial rewards to high-performing schools and their faculty. However, those provisions were removed at the recommendation of Asbill, the bill's sponsor, to ease objections from those worried that the incentives would siphoned off money from schools with low grades.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools are rated on whether they are making "adequate yearly progress" in meeting targets for boosting student achievement. But proponents of the legislation said the current system is bewildering to parents and others because it assigns vague labels, such as "corrective action" or "restructuring," to schools missing the performance goals.

Sen. Cynthia Nava, a Las Cruces Democrat and a school superintendent in southern New Mexico, said low-performing schools will be treated more fairly under the A-to-F grading system rather than the current ratings in which there are only two designations — meeting "adequate yearly progress" targets or missing them.

"My opinion is that we need to get off the dime and move. I know that we already grade schools and the only grades we have are A and F," said Nava.

"For me it's not about helping the governor or pushing the governor's agenda," said Nava. "For me it's about helping students."