Senator says existing formula a riddle that few can decipher
State Sen. Howie Morales, who says New Mexico’s formula for grading its 830 public schools is confusing and inaccurate, cleared his first hurdle Wednesday to change the system.
The Senate Education Committee advanced Morales’ bill to junk the existing model and enable a 21-member council of school professionals and school board members to create a different one.
Education committee members endorsed Morales’ bill on a 5-4 vote. All the Republicans opposed it.
Morales, right, D-Silver City, would continue rating schools with the A-F grading system approved by legislators in 2011. But his bill would reduce dependence on standardized testing and broaden grading factors to include criteria such as the readiness of high school students for college or careers.
The existing system is statistically unsound, Morales said. For instance, high schools are graded mostly on standardized tests administered to those in the junior class. This is a small snapshot of how a high school is doing, not a scientific grading formula, he said.
Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of the state Public Education Department, said the state’s grading model was endorsed by national education experts. Terri Cole, CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said parents and businesspeople like the clarity of the existing A-F model.
But Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, said the grading system is anything but clear.
He said he was with 700 school administrators and school board members when they were asked if they understood how the Public Education Department grades schools. Not a one raised his hand, Sapien said.
Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said people in his district were baffled by the state’s grading formula.
“I couldn’t find a single person who could explain the system,” Padilla said.
Morales said the state grades schools on a bell curve. It penalizes high-performing schools that, under the system, often have no place to go but down, said Morales, who has a doctorate in education.
Parts of the grading system receive weight but are meaningless, he said. Morales pointed to survey questions in which students are asked if their teacher explains assignments and objectives.
“Which teacher? We all know that middle school and high school students have more than one teacher,” Morales said.
Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, pushed hard in 2011 for the A-F grading system. In her first two years in office, grading schools was the most high-profile of her education initiatives to receive legislative approval.
Morales told the committee he considered his bill a bipartisan effort because people of all political stripes were confused by the grading system and want to see it improved.
He said teachers, principals, parents, students and school boards need a clear and valid grading formula.
If Morales’ bill became law, the council to revamp the grading system undertake a study of the existing method and assess factors that help or hurt school performance. It would also set up temporary grading criteria for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
The council would make recommendations to the Legislature and Public Education Department on implementing the new A-F grading system by the 2015-16 school year.
Morales’ proposal, Senate Bill 587, goes next to the Senate Finance Committee.