Poverty and poor grades still linked in NM schools

Under the state’s new accountability system, New Mexico schools with higher levels of poverty still generally received lower grades than their more affluent counterparts. That’s true despite the state Public Education Department’s efforts to control for the effects of poverty. State public education chief Hannah Skandera acknowledged a relationship between poverty and school grades, but she pointed to exceptions and stood by the system as a fair way to grade schools. According to a Journal analysis, all 69 schools that received “F” grades under the new system are high-poverty, defined by the federal government as those where at least half the students qualify for lunch subsidies. Among schools that received a “D,” about 95 percent are high-poverty. Conversely, only 41 percent of the 39 schools that received “A” grades are high-poverty. Overall, about 80 percent of New Mexico schools have high levels of poverty, according to the Journal analysis, which found the relationship between poverty and school grades by several different measures and methods. The PED controlled for poverty in calculating A-F grades by looking at changes over time in individual student test scores, rather than raw scores at one point in time. “One of our goals was to begin to level that playing field and begin to measure growth and improvement,” Skandera said. “Obviously, I believe we achieved that goal of finding a much better and more accurate picture, regardless of background and demographics.” Skandera pointed to studies that show an effective teacher can make a big difference for students from all backgrounds, and that teachers vary widely in how much their students’ test scores improve from year to year. “I think that’s a key piece to highlight that we often miss and go straight to poverty,” she said...



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