School of Dreams Academy receives 'D' in new state grading system

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School of Dreams Academy received a D as its official school grade, up from its preliminary F grade in January.

The new New Mexico grading system replaced the Adequate Yearly Progress federal ratings system.

The New Mexico Public Education Department calculates school grades using at least three years worth of data in areas such as academic growth, attendance, support of both the highest and lowest performing students and college and career readiness.

Because the School of Dreams Academy doesn't have a graduating class yet, the Public Education Department didn't use the college and career readiness data in the calculations for SODA's grade. This is the understanding Principal Mike Ogas has.

School officials are preparing an appeal, which is due Tuesday, July 17, in Santa Fe.

"That will be part of my appeal, because we have a very well developed dual credit program," Ogas said. "Many of our programs qualify as career readiness, like our digital arts, web page design, those kinds of things."

The school has more than 60 students who have taken almost 200 college credit hours in the last year and a half, and the school has had a career inventory program for the past two years, Ogas said.

"On the one hand, it (the grading) gives the public a picture of where schools are, but I'm still not convinced it gives a true picture of where we are," Ogas said.

"I can live with the test scores needing to improve, but there's other things in here, like parental involvement points.," he said. "I mean we have a school that is loaded with parental involvement. That's one of the highlights of our school, and at this point, we're not getting credit for it."

School officials are going through the school data bank student-by-student to see in what areas each student has excelled and where students have not made progress in order to target instruction.

"We need to better understand how the scores are derived in each category," Ogas said. "We need to know what numbers are used, and that's been unclear, at least in my mind."

He also points out that every school is different, especially charter schools. Charter schools generally have a particular theme, whether science and technology, digital arts or mathematics, but all schools have different programs to engage student involvement in learning.

Some have vocational, mechanics, or science and technology programs that educators have pursued grant funding and school fundraising to foster. Each school can have a different approach to engage students, but none of that is counted in the grading assessment, he said.

"I think that the grading system is a way of trying to look at all schools equally," Ogas said. "But every school has its unique identity — their unique focus."

In February, New Mexico became one of the first 11 states in the country to receive a waiver from AYP in order to adopt a state-specific approach.

"I want to know what data was used for us, so that we can come back and look at it," Ogas said.

"Our job, at my level, is to better understand that so we know what their target points are, and then to formulate our methods and programs to try to improve in those areas, and one of the areas they are highly emphasizing is test scores."

The school is at or above the state average in test scores, and recognize there is a lot of room for improvement, he said.

"This is the accountability system for New Mexico, and no excuses, we just need to move forward with it," Ogas said. "That's where I'm at, and I'm dead set at figuring out how it works."


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.