Board members say school progress plan flawed

By Gary Mitchell

A statewide plan to evaluate student and school district progress earned labels of “foolish” and “flawed” by Clovis School Board members Tuesday night.
As part of the House Bill 212 “No Child Left Behind” Act recently signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson, the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) part of the legislation will go into effect this school year, said Ladona Clayton, assistant superintendent of instruction for Clovis schools.
The Adequate Yearly Progress plan will be the second phase of the new school rating system implemented by the state Legislature in response to the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act.
In brief, the program calls for all students in grades 4, 8 and 11 be tested during the year. Those students would make up the “whole group” of the school, and within the “whole group” are eight subgroups, whose scores are also evaluated, including five ethnic groups, a free and reduced lunch group, English language learners and special education students.
Each of those groups will be evaluated in five content areas, and each group this year has to attain a 40-percent proficiency level in all five areas, Clayton told board members.
“Under AYP, they have to get 100 percent proficient within 10 years — by the academic year 2013-14,” she said. “In a perfect world, if every subgroup attained the 40th percentile level in all five areas, they would have to improve by 6 percent each year to reach 100 percent in 10 years — but we all know this isn’t a perfect world.”
For example, if one subgroup only attained 10 percent this year in an area, that subgroup or school has one year to improve to 46 percent to stay within standards — otherwise the school would be placed on probation, Clayton said.
Similarly, if a subgroup earned a 95th percentile in a content area, they would only have to improve 1 or 2 percent the next year to meet standards, but if they dropped below the 95th percentage level, that school would be placed on probation as well.
“Have you ever seen anything as foolish as this?” asked board member George Banister.
Clayton looked at Clovis superintendent Neil Nuttall and asked, “Do I have to answer that?’”
“I think we’ll have probationary schools all over New Mexico,” Banister said. “It’s foolish. It’s sad that the federal government mandates something that won’t work.”
“We’ve got a long way to go before we build an accountability system that does what it’s supposed to do,” Nuttall said. “We don’t want to come off as not wanting to improve our schools and our teaching. We’ve inherited a school system that is a good one, but we do want our schools to perform better and better.”
Nuttall described the evaluation of the AYP plan as taking the most at-risk students and it “magnifies their presence in the system” of a fair and objective assessment.
“It borders on the insane,” he said. “We have good programs and dedicated teachers. Its advocates may say, ‘Well, this is tougher,’ but I would say it’s just not sound thinking.”
Banister agreed. “We can play the game, and we will play the game. But we’re just setting our teachers and schools up for failure. What do you think — will it take one or two years for every school in the state to be on probation? I just hope people will see it’s a flawed program.”