Belen Schools receive mixed PED grades

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No one is turning cartwheels at Belen Consolidated Schools after last week's release of school grades, but no one is throwing in the towel either.

Superintendent Ron Marquez said he and the district's principals were extremely disappointed with the 2014 school grade report card put out last week by the New Mexico Publication Education Department.

"But to quote someone else, 'It is what it is.' We aren't making excuses. We know what the situation is and we are addressing the issues," Marquez said.

Only one Belen school improved its grade this year — Central Elementary went from an F to a D, while three schools held on to the grades they earned last year — Infinity, HT Jaramillo Community School and Belen Family School again earned a C, D and B respectively.

The remaining schools fell a letter grade, giving the district a total of one B, two Cs, six Ds and two Fs.

The release of this year's scores last Wednesday coincided with the end of the district's administrative retreat last week, which Marquez called an extremely positive session.

"We had been talking about communications and having difficult conversations," he said.

Reading the grades for the district's 11 schools was a difficult conversation to have, the superintendent said. After the grades were read aloud, Marquez said you could have heard a pin drop in the conference room containing 30-plus administrators.

"A lot of the principals took it very hard, very personally," the superintendent said.

And even with the philosophy of "it is what it is," Marquez said he is still questioning the process.

"How can you can base 30 percent of a grade of a school on one small snapshot — SBA scores," he asked.

High schools can get up to 30 points out of 100 based on their current standing, which is the student performance in the most recent school year.

Middle and elementary schools can earn up to 40 points out of a possible 100. The extra 10 points is put on the current standing for the lower levels because they aren't assessed on college and career readiness like high schools.

Marquez also wonders how much the district's decision to shift the SBA testing to all computer based impacted the scores.

"There is some data out there that seems to indicate that districts that went to all computers saw their grades dip," he said.

While a school gets an overall grade, Marquez said there are several specific areas they are graded on which can change either up or down from year to year.

For instance, this year, Belen High School received an F — 8.30 points out of 30 — for it's current standing benchmark, down from a B last year.

But in the areas of student growth of highest-performing students and growth of lowest performing, the school received an A and a B, respectively.

"Those two are very important areas to look at. In college and career readiness, Belen High got an A," Marquez said.

Rodney Wright, Belen High School principal, said a lot of factors truly go into a school's grade.

"There are seven areas for high schools and we scored well in four of seven," Wright said.

After seeing the results from last year's end-of-course exams, Wright said he and assistant principals Jamie Jones and Joanne Silva knew the high school's grade might slide.

"The areas of current standing, school growth and graduation, we can have some control over and will continue to improve," he said. "On our part, we can do a better job of tracking students who leave the school."

Looking at test scores, Wright said whether its PARCC, SBA or the EOCs, they are all based on standards and the school needs to be teaching to those standards.

"We are doubling our efforts going back to what are the standards, how are we doing teaching them and more importantly, are the kids learning the content of the standards," he said.

Even though the grades were released just a little more than a week ago, Wright said he, Jones and Silva have been having conversations throughout the summer.

"We've already had concerns about our SBA scores, our EOCs. There are already plans, and we've been in discussions since May," the principal said.

Plans include implementing the Power Hour model — called the Eagle Success Period, focusing on content, determining whether specific groups of students need additional support and assigning each incoming freshman a junior or senior mentor.

"Our discussions started way before Wednesday," Wright said. "We are disappointed but not discouraged. We know what we need to do."

Last Friday, after having a couple of days to adjust to the grades, Marquez met with the principals and began to plan on how to address the deficiencies.

"A lot of this is about communication and difficult conversations," he said. "We have lesson plan templates, pacing guides, reading programs. We have to ensure we are using those programs."

Now principals need to study the data further, the superintendent said, and begin to move forward.

"Again, we were disappointed, but we are pumped and ready to go for the new year," he said. "We have a good group of teachers here. We will continue to work and move forward.

"One of the things we've talked about as an administration is bringing back that core value of education in the community."

(Read next week's edition of the New-Bulletin to read about Los Lunas School's and School of Dreams Academy's grades.)


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