Grad rates in Los Lunas slightly down

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Los Lunas Schools graduation rates have been running neck-to-neck with statewide graduation rates, but fell below it in 2013 by just 0.9 percent.

The New Mexico Public Education Department released the 2013 high school graduation rates last week and showed a statewide rate of 70.3 percent.

The national graduation rate is about 75 percent, according to Education Week magazine.

Some of the districts' students, who did not graduate, opted out to take their GED, others will graduate a year late, some have moved out-of-state and some quit school to take a job or time off for family matters. There are different reasons for different students, school officials say.

Los Lunas High School graduated 72.9 percent of its seniors, Valencia High School 71.3 and the alternative Century High School graduated 22.7 students.

Last year, the number of students who opted out to take their GED increased, said Ron Williams, assistant superintendent of Los Lunas Schools.

School officials attribute those students and others who moved to private or charter schools to the $11 million budget cuts over the past decade, and the narrowed focus on core subjects mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.

These measures, said Los Lunas Superintendent Bernard Saiz, forced the district to cut electives and vocational courses in agriculture, economics, robotics, auto mechanics, welding, wood work, the arts, drama and others.

Private and charter schools have sprung up to fill the void left by these losses, said Saiz.

There are magnet schools with central themes in engineering or robotics, performing arts and others that draw students who have interests in those fields.

"I can remember when I was a high school principal and I had some kids that the only reason they would come to school is because they wanted to go to their art classes, their welding classes, wood work classes or their auto mechanics," said Saiz.

"And that was the only reason those kids came to school and graduated, so they could come to the classes that meant so much to them. That's why they did their math classes, their science classes, their English classes their history classes … now we've taken all those out of the public schools."

Education reform that set out to improve public education has backfired and actually deteriorated public education, he said.

Not every child is designed to be an academic, and some students' only motivation to go to school were these courses of study, said Saiz.

"I think in narrowing our focus so much into one aspect of education, we've hurt a lot of our kids," he said. "It looks like there's a push back now trying to restore some of that education; the vocational end of it, the arts and sciences. I think that's part of what we're seeing with kids dropping out, kids wanting to take their GED because public education nowadays no longer meets those kids' needs — that's the response to it."

Now the district is trying to make up for all the changes brought on by No Child Left Behind, but it is a game of catch up, the superintendent said.

The graduation rate formula was developed by the state's public education department as part of federal requirements for the No Child Left Behind waiver the state received a couple of years ago, Saiz said.

Graduation rates are calculated using a four-year cohort where high school students are followed from freshman year to graduation at all state high schools.

"What they do is they look at the kid that started in the ninth grade class anywhere in the state," said Saiz. "So, they're tracking them, whether it was a kid that started ninth grade in Belen or Moriarty or Santa Fe — that becomes part of that four-year cohort.

"What's unfortunate is, it could be a kid who started their ninth-grade year in Belen and came to Los Lunas, and then they left or dropped out … they were only with us for one year or four months, it still becomes a part of our four-year cohort."

For example, if a Los Lunas student who graduates, but came from the Santa Fe Schools in his sophomore year, is calculated as a positive credit to both high schools. If he didn't graduate, that works against both schools' graduation rate.

Students who moved to New Mexico from out-of-state as juniors and graduated in a Los Lunas High School are not figured into the cohort at all, Williams added.

At press time, the PED did not return a scheduled call to the News-Bulletin to answer questions regarding the graduation rate formula and why the rate is not calculated by the total number of seniors and graduates.


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