LAPS make the grade

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Education: Los Alamos schools earn four A’s and three B’s

By The Staff

Governor Susana Martinez announced the release of the first official school grades under New Mexico’s new School Grading System Monday. This announcement marks the first time the state has utilized a school accountability system created specifically for the students of New Mexico.

Over 830 elementary, middle and high schools were measured in several areas of student achievement. As opposed to basing the system on a single test score, these school grades are calculated using at least three years’ worth of data whenever possible in areas such as academic growth, attendance, support of both the highest and lowest performing students, and college and career readiness.

Los Alamos schools fared quite well in the new grading system with its seven schools receiving four A’s and 3 B’s.
Schools were based on current standing (40 possible points), school growth (10), growth of highest performing students (20), growth of lowest performing students (20), and opportunity to learn (10). Bonus points also were awarded.

Barranca Mesa Elementary was the highest point scorer among Los Alamos schools with 80.8 points, followed by Mountain Elementary (77.7), Piñon (77.5) and Los Alamos High (76.0). Seventy-five or more points earned the “A” grade.

Earning “B” grades were Los Alamos Middle School (73.9), Chamisa Elementary (71.5) and Aspen Elementary (68.0).

“School points were based on test results,” LAPS Superintendent Eugene Schmidt said. “The numbers stacked nicely. It has created a system where you choose a school in our system and you will do well. Our schools performed at a high level.”

LAPS received low marks under the growth of lowest performing students. Five of the seven schools received failing marks in that category.

“We are still trying to figure that one out,” Schmidt said. “That seems to be across the state. We need to do a better job of understanding who these kids are.”

New Mexico’s School Grading System replaces the Adequate Yearly Progress federal ratings which, according to estimates, would have labeled nearly 98 percent of New Mexico’s schools as “failing” this year, with little useful information to differentiate between schools based on growth or proficiency.  In February, New Mexico became one of the first 11 states in the country to receive a waiver from this federal rating system in order to adopt a state-specific approach that provides better information about student progress and achievement when rating the state’s schools.

"These results are not only important to inform parents and students today about where their school stands, but they are helpful for teachers, school leaders, and community stakeholders who want to take action to reform education in New Mexico and improve our schools,” Martinez said.  “We are measuring progress and growth, and we need to focus more intently than ever on identifying our lowest-performing schools and students so that we can get them the help they need to succeed.”

Schmidt said under the old plan there was a possibility that Mountain School may have passed the standard.

“This a more helpful tool than the No Child Left Behind,” Schmidt said. “Mountain School had a chance to make it and every school would have made it with the exception of special education. I think it’s cruel to label a school as failing when it comes to special education.”

The 2012 results show over 65 percent of New Mexico Schools either maintained or improved their school grade since the release of preliminary results in January.

The statewide distribution of school grades is as follows:

“If we calculated school rankings using the same federal rules from the past, over 800 schools would be labeled as failing.  We know that’s not the case,” said NMPED Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera. “Instead, we now have access to a broader breakdown of our schools that incorporates growth, proficiency, and other measurements.  These grades show us that there is tremendous work to be done to improve education in our state, but they also provide better benchmarks, goals, and information to equip teachers, school leaders, and parents as we work together to improve our kids’ opportunities for success.”

An examination of school grade results did reveal important trends across the state; among the most noteworthy is the need to focus on our lowest performing students and the importance of closing the achievement gap.  For the first time, we have an accurate picture of progress and areas needing improvement in our schools, Skandera said.

In addition to some calculation changes mandated by the federal government in New Mexico’s NCLB waiver, a new component to the calculation of official school grades is the inaugural “Opportunity to Learn” (OTL) survey that was completed by over 190,000 New Mexico students.  For the first time ever, every student who completed the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment was administered a survey to measure student satisfaction in the classroom.  Many schools fared well on these surveys; however, others experienced a drop in points as a result of students expressing a lack of engagement or understanding of material in the classroom.  A sample of the OTL survey, complete with results, will be made public as part of each school’s report card.