All Republicans oppose measure, but it carries 23-18
The state Senate voted 23-18 to scrap the grading formula implemented by the Public Education Department and replace it with a different model. Morales’ bill advances next to the House of Representatives.
All 17 Republicans in the Senate voted against Morales’ bill, as did Democratic Sen. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces. The rest of the Democrats supported Morales' call for change, saying the grading formula now used is impenetrable.
“Nobody understands how his grade is being calculated,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Soules, a statistics and science teacher from Las Cruces.
Under Morales’ bill, letter grades of A through F would continue to be used to rate the state’s 830 public schools. But the way grades are calculated would change.
Morales, above, D-Silver City, criticized the existing system as top-heavy with standardized tests. They account for 90 percent of grades for elementary and middle schools and 60 percent for high schools.
“Right now we have the opportunity to test. We need the opportunity to learn,” Morales said.
He said even the high school grading model is skewed, as most of it is tied to the performance of the junior class on standardized tests in math and English.
His proposal, Senate Bill 587, would create a broad-based grading formula. A 21-member council of school professionals, in cooperation with the Public Education Department, would put it in place over three years. A temporary grading system would fill the void until the final model was finished.
Sen. William Payne, right, R-Albuquerque, said he was not satisfied with Morales’ bill. Payne said it was vague in terms of much of the grading formula.
Most schools, Payne said, probably could reach a C-plus without doing a thing under Morales' plan.
Morales’ bill would tie 33 percent of a student’s grade to testing. But his bill allows for a variety of other standards to count toward school grades. They would include attendance, improving truancy rates, students' participation in extracurricular activities and their’ readiness for college or the workplace.
Morales said that Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of public education, had given contradictory explanations of the grading formula. He said she alternately denied and then agreed that it is dependent on a bell curve.
Skandera has said that New Mexico’s grading system has been much praised nationally, and that it was conceived in consultation with experts.
But Soules said the system as it stands is strangled by its grading curve. When one school moves up, another must move down, he said, robbing the system of a true accounting of school performance.
Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, the Senate Education Committee chairman, thanked Morales for sponsoring the bill. Sapien said the existing formula was so confusing that even those on the front lines of education cannot understand it.
One of Skandera’s deputies, Paul Aguilar, last summer told a legislative committee that the grading formula was so complex that perhaps no more than five people understood it. After that, calls to revamp it escalated.
Skandera, an appointee of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, is in the midest of a Senate confirmation hearing.
Republicans have rallied around her. Skandera's critics include numerous Democratic senators, and the school grading system is one of the reasons.