It may be summer break but grades are in for Hobbs schools. It’s all part of an A-F grading system instituted by the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED), which first gave a glimpse of its evaluation method when it released preliminary marks in January.
After tabulating results from students who were tested in the spring, the PED improved the letter grade of five Hobbs schools in the latest report while dropping three schools by a grade. (Click here to find out the grade your school received).
But Hobbs Municipal Schools Supt. TJ Parks said the public should be careful to neither celebrate schools which improve nor malign those that do not until the state’s new A-F evaluation scale is fully understood.
“It’s a line in the sand, a mark in time,” Parks said during Monday night’s school board meeting. “(The grade) tells us this is what our current status is and how we can improve. Everything we talk about is a model of improvement.”
Improvement will come primarily through an analysis of testing data and a classroom-by-classroom curriculum adjustment based on that analysis, Parks said. Key to the aggressive approach is Suchint Sarangarm, Ph.D., the district’s new assistant superintendent who was hired this month with monies provided by a five-year Maddox Foundation grant. (To read more about Dr. Sarangarm, click here.)
“Only five people in the state can figure out the A-through-F formula and we’ve got one of them right here,” Parks said.
The district’s goal is to have 14 of its 16 of its schools earn at least a “C” status within five years, a mark that would land Hobbs in the middle achievement level of all New Mexico schools. That’s in contrast to this month’s report, which has two schools, Mills and Broadmoor earning a “C,” while Highland scored a “B.” The remaining schools had a “D” or “F,” although the district will dispute the “F” Edison received based on what it says is clearly inaccurate attendance data.
Sixty percent of a secondary school’s grade is based on testing with career and college readiness, graduation rate, attendance and school survey responses accounting for the rest of the grade. In contrast, elementary schools – at 90 percent - are graded almost exclusively on test results, “which is why elementary schools don’t do as well as secondary schools,” Parks explained.
While the district is adding other “pieces of the puzzle” to address below average grades – including a new truancy court which will tackle the problem of absenteeism at all schools – the numbers analysis provided by Sarangarm will be critical.
“We have enough data to set off a world war,” Parks said of information available to the district through state and online assessments. “I think the dilemma is. ….we’ve not had the resources to break that data down to where a teacher can understand it.”
Sarangarm will provide a packet of results for each teacher that will outline strengths and weaknesses of individual students as well as common deficits in classroom learning. That information – coupled with an analysis of predicted testing focus areas – will form the curriculum base, Parks said. Principals will be charged with ensuring that instructors are teaching targeted areas while superintendents will be a more visible presence. “We’ve got to get central office out of central office,” Parks said. “We’ve got to make sure that we are sitting down with the principals and they are monitoring what has to be taught. We have to be instructional leaders.”
Parks predicted that teachers may see improving test results to be in their best interest as well as the student. Beginning in 2013, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on their student test results. However, only two subjects – math and reading – are state tested in grades 3-8 and 11th grade. Because of that, teachers in non-tested grades or teachers who instruct other subjects will be evaluated, in part, based on the letter grade their school receives.
Is it fair, therefore, Parks asked, for the K-2 teachers at one school to receive a D on 25 percent of their evaluation when they laid the groundwork for a class of third graders who had the highest reading and math scores in the city this spring?
Because each grade feeds into another and subjects are often related, teachers who instruct grades which aren’t tested or teach non-core subjects “will have to realize their subject is just as important as core instructors,” Parks said.
“Not every child that walks into our schools is going to be proficient. They will not all walk in with the same skill set,” Parks said. “But we can improve that child day after day, year after year – and that’s what we want to focus on – improvement.”