Portales schools fail state standards

Staff and Wire Reports

SANTA FE — Two-thirds of New Mexico’s schools met basic requirements for student performance and participation under a new federally mandated system for rating schools.
None of Portales’ eight public schools reached the goal of making adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The 2004 school ratings are based on a new system that tracks whether a school is making adequate yearly progress in meeting state goals for improving student achievement. Under the federal law, states are to gradually increase their targets so 100 percent of students are proficient on achievement tests by the 2013-14 school year.
Portales schools superintendent Jim Holloway said the report released Monday is misleading.
“We are ahead of where we need to be on the spectrum,” Holloway said. “AYP doesn’t reflect all of the students. If one subgroup didn’t meet AYP then the entire school did not meet AYP. It only takes 25 to make a subgroup. It’s very frustrating.”
Holloway said Brown Elementary, Steiner Elementary and James Elementary received “did not meet AYP” status because of fourth-graders’ scores. He said they are feeder schools and are judged off of Valencia Elementary scores.
Schools are evaluated mainly on student performance and participation in math and reading tests. Other factors in the ratings are graduation rates for high schools and attendance rates for elementary, middle and junior high schools.
Education Secretary Veronica Garcia described it as “unacceptable” that a third of the schools failed to meet this year’s requirements but agreed the new ratings were misleading for some schools.
For instance, a school will not reach the goal of making adequate yearly progress if fewer than 95 percent of its students take required tests. That happened in 39 schools, Garcia said.
In addition, she said, a school’s rating hinges on the lowest performing group of students.
A school will not meet the adequate yearly progress goal if any one of several subgroups of students — black, white, Hispanic, poor or “economically disadvantaged,” special education and limited English proficient students — fail to meet performance or participation goals on tests.
Garcia said 118 schools didn’t meet this year’s rating goal because of low performance by one of the student subgroups.
“I don’t believe that it gives a clear picture of an entire school,” Garcia said of the rating system.
She said parents need to carefully review the reasons for a school’s rating problem before deciding whether the school is providing a good education for their children.
Garcia and other department officials cautioned that it’s not accurate to compare a school’s 2004 rating to 2003 ratings under the agency’s former accountability system.
All but one of Portales’ schools — the alternative school Broad Horizons — received a “meets standard” rating in 2003-2004. Broad Horizons was listed as probationary last year.
Holloway said a system should be in place to monitor each group from year to year, instead of grading different groups to measure improvement.
“We don’t feel like the testing is valid,” Holloway said. “The stakes are too high. We need to look at how much you learn from year to year. If the student doesn’t improve then there’s something wrong.”
However, the state’s education department is integrating previous ratings into the new system to determine what happens to low-performing schools.
The longer a school fails to make adequate yearly progress, the more actions that can be required of the school. The options range from extra services such as student tutoring to state takeover of a school.
If a school fails to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years, for instance, that school must develop a plan for improvement and offer parents the option of sending their children to a school that meets performance standards.
After five years of not making adequate yearly progress, a school could be taken over by the state, turned into a charter school, have all of its staff replaced or have its governance and management system overhauled. The department said 21 schools have reached that point in the rating system and 10 schools have failed to meet performance goals for six years.
Garcia said the department likely would decide in November what corrective steps to require of the lowest performing schools, none of which include Portales.