Graduation rates in Los Lunas increases to 71 percent

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New Mexico high school graduation rates are increasing, according to a New Mexico Public Education Department report, and Los Lunas Schools' graduation rate increased from 66 percent last year, to nearly 71 percent, or 706 graduates.

State levels rose from 63 to 70.3 percent.

Los Lunas High School's graduation rate rose nearly 5 percent, from 67 to 71.7 percent. Valencia High School rose from 67 to 75.5 percent, and Century High School rose from 10.6 to 23.1 percent.

Graduation rates for alternative schools, such as Century High School, are weighted differently from traditional schools, said Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Bernard Saiz.

Of the districts closest in size to Los Lunas, Roswell, had a 64 percent graduation rate out of 774 possible graduates, and Hobbs had a 74.4 percent out of 600 possible graduates.

Albuquerque Schools' graduation rate is 65 percent, Rio Rancho almost 79 percent and Santa Fe close to 62 percent.

Out of the 10 top largest New Mexico school districts, Los Lunas ranks fifth this year, up from sixth last year, said Saiz.

"The larger the district, the more difficult it is to have higher graduation rates, higher test score rates, lower drop-out rates," Saiz said. "The smaller the school district, you'll typically have higher graduation rates, higher test scores, because you're dealing with less kids, more attention — (there is) just a different make-up of a smaller district than a larger district."

Along with Standard Based Assessment tests, the district also uses the national MAP test, or Measure of Academic Progress to chart student gains.

The latest MAP scores reveal that every grade of every Los Lunas school has grown.

All of the schools exceeded the national standardized benchmark of progress on test scores, except four schools, and they only missed expected growth by 1/10 of a point, Saiz said.

Century High School was the only school that had a dip in its reading scores, but the alternative high school exceeded expected growth in math.

An interesting quirk in the measurement of proficiency is that a student who may be several points above the proficiency level, but doesn't make the benchmark of progress is considered not to have made proficiency. Yet, a student who is below proficiency, who makes the expected growth on the current test is considered to have made proficiency, he said.

"It's just based on how much that student grows within a certain amount of time," said Saiz. "But every school in the district made growth. They showed growth from where they were last year."

The superintendent's goal, set by the board of education each year, is to raise math and reading proficiency levels at every school in the district.

"Part of my salary is withheld if I don't meet the goals set by the board," Saiz said. "Whether I end up getting my full salary at the end will be based on if I meet that goal or not."

One more MAP test takes place in the spring, and those results will show what gains have been made since August.

The board extended the superintendent's contract another year at a recent board meeting. Although he still has two years remaining on his three-year contract, the board can extend that contract annually.

"Our test scores are up right now, our graduation rates are up, discipline rates are down across the district by about 30 percent," he said. "We're at an all time low for the amount of students that we've had to suspend out of school. So, things are definitely moving in the right direction."

The district's athletic programs have some of the top performing teams in the state right now, he said, with football, volley ball, soccer and basketball is heading in the same direction.

During the four years Saiz has been the superintendent, there have been sharp budget cuts each year, yet the district managed to stay in the black, he said.

The district continues to receive the highest audit ratings, and the maintenance department won an award from the state.

Even with staff cuts of more than 100 teachers, administrators and non-certified employees, the schools are still making gains.

"The neat thing about all of this is, it's not just a perception," Saiz said. "We actually have data in every area, hard black and white numbers that show that this district is gaining and moving in the right direction."


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