Home > Uncategorized > New Mexico’s Opaque Grading System for Schools Diverts Attention From Real Problem: $$$$

New Mexico’s Opaque Grading System for Schools Diverts Attention From Real Problem: $$$$

August 22, 2018

An article by Robert Nott in yesterday’s Santa Fe New Mexican, “Education or Politics? Clash Over Santa Fe Schools’ Letter Grades“, describes an ongoing tiff between the Superintendent of the State Department of Education in that state with the Superintendent of Santa Fe public schools. The latest dust up is over the state’s grading system, which assigned grades of D or F to over 50% of the schools in Santa Fe. Those low grades notwithstanding, the State Department’s own report on its grades indicated that Santa Fe schools were “starting to show meaningful academic progress … and will continue on an upward trajectory if we as a state ensure consistency for them.” Despite this finding by his own department, Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski described Santa Fe Public Schools as “a district in crisis” and singled out the leadership of the Superintendent, Veronica Garcia, as the ultimate problem.

Ms. Garcia’s response to Mr. Ruszkowski reveals the ultimate source of his criticism:

García on Monday said she believes the department is targeting her because of her advocacy — and critical comments she has made about the department — over the past two years.

“I think there’s been a pattern of, I speak out, I am investigated, it creates a cloud, and then it dies out, and then I speak out again and it comes again,” said García, who headed the education department during the Democratic administration of Gov. Bill Richardson.

Mr. Nott’s article provides evidence that lends credence to Ms. Garcia’s claims, and in doing so underscores the ultimate politics behind the entire notion of assigning letter grades to schools. As Mr. Nott explains, Ms. Garcia has been one of the leaders in the fight for adequate school funding in New Mexico, a fight the legislature recently lost when the courts in that state determined there was insufficient funding for the public schools… and Mr. Ruszkowski answers to the legislators who want to short change public schools and privatize them.

Mr. Nott’s concluding paragraphs underscore the difficulty a school district faces in trying to understand that source of their “grades’:

The school grading system, which the state initiated in school year 2012-13, incorporates a complex range of factors, including standardized test scores, attendance, graduation rates and parents’ involvement in a school.

But explaining the formula has been a challenge. In 2013, a group of retired Los Alamos physicists analyzed the system and said it is so complex that it would take a rocket scientist to understand it.

But, to be sure, when a complicated formula that requires a degree in physics to comprehend turns out an “easy-to-understand” letter grade the result is an “easy-to-politicize” result. Measuring the effectiveness of schools is complicated… but reducing that measurement to a single letter grade that is presumably analogous to the grades voters received in schools is politically appealing… especially if the goal is to denigrate the schools in question.

So is it education or politics? I think readers know the answer!

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