ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The report issued by the state education department last month assigning a letter grade to each of New Mexico's schools seemed relatively straightforward.
After all, the standard grading scale of 90-100 equaling a "A," 80-89 equaling a "B," 70-79 a "C," and so on has been around for decades.
"I know what an ‘A' means," said Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera. "I know what a ‘B' means. I know what a ‘C,' I know what a ‘D,' and an ‘F' means."
However, that is not the scale the education department used to rank New Mexico's schools. Instead, the department evaluated the schools in a number of areas, including academic growth, attendance rates and graduation rates, then graded them on a curve.
In other words, while a total of 100 points was possible, the department gave "As" to the top 10 percent of schools in the state. That lowered the "A" mark from a 90 to a 75. Under the PED scale, a school that received a 50 rating got a "C."
"That's not fair," said Jaclyn Jacobsen, a student at Sandia High School in Albuquerque. "Because if we get like a 59 or below, we get ‘Fs.' "
But Skandera said the state needed to set a benchmark, and grading on the curve was the best way to do it.
"Our bar is the top 10 percent," Skandera said. "That's how we're measuring success. I think that's an excellent starting point for asking, ‘How are we doing?' And let's benchmark against that and go forward and aspire that every single one of our schools is in the top 10 percent."
The benchmark "A" provides the Public Education Department with a point to measure school progress in the future, she said. And the new scale is a much better way to measure schools than the pass-fail system set out by the No Child Left Behind Act, Skandera said.
"Last year we had 87 percent of our schools failing according to … No Child Left Behind," she said. "I don't believe 87 percent of our schools are failing."
Under the new system, 73 of New Mexico's 831 schools received "As," but just four of those schools scored a 90 or above. Of the 260 schools that received "Cs," only 19 of them actually would have received a passing grade when measured under the traditional scale.
News 13 asked parents at Marie Hughes Elementary School in Albuquerque – which received a 67.7, or a "B" – about the state's new scale.
"They shouldn't use a curve," said James McDonald, one of the school's parents. "They should be graded with just a flat grade."
Jessi Allen, president of the elementary school's parent-teacher organization, said that although the new grading system is confusing, she understood why the state graded on the curve.
"This was the very first time the grades came out," Allen said. "And I would think they didn't want everybody to just throw in the towel. I certainly would have been devastated if a 67 percent would have said that Marie Hughes was at a ‘D.' "
The January report is only preliminary. Skandera said part of the purpose of releasing the grades now was to recognize weaknesses and work out the kinks. However, the grading curve will once again be used in June when the official grade report is released, she said.
"We have a long way to go," she said, "but it's a great start."
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