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Friday, October 20, 2000

State Erred in Rewarding Schools

By Andrea Schoellkopf Journal Staff Writer The state incorrectly awarded some of $1.84 million in incentive money to schools with student test scores that dropped, instead of showing improvement. "We've got to make a correction," state Superintendent Michael Davis said Thursday. "And it will be a big one." Earlier this month, the state board named 94 schools as "high-improving," intending to divide among them a $1.84 million incentive package approved by the Legislature. But an Albuquerque Journal analysis of Albuquerque Public Schools test scores found that all 15 of the district's schools named to the state's list as showing high improvement had dropped in their composite test scores this year. Similar results were found for three schools from the Bernalillo and Santa Fe districts. Scores from the other 76 were not available. APS schools such as Tomasita Elementary, which dropped by 24 points, and Lavaland Elementary, which dropped by 22, made the high-improvement list. Meanwhile, MacArthur Elementary jumped 24 points in its fourth-grade test scores and didn't make the list. "Schools that had decreases shouldn't have been on the list," said Patricia Rael, state deputy director of accountability, who re-calculated the data several times Thursday. Davis said he was first notified of the problem earlier this week after a Journal reporter questioned the methodology. He said the state made a "miscalculation," but would not say how the mistake was made or whether the whole list was wrong. "You're going to have to draw your own conclusion," Davis said in a telephone interview. Davis said his staff had rushed to prepare the list for the Oct. 6 state board meeting. He said he would release a new list this morning after he had reviewed it more carefully. It would still require state board approval at the November meeting. "I'm going to take some time with it," Davis said. "Working too quickly is what created the problem in the first place. We want to make sure this new calculation is accurate." Davis said the state would begin notifying the schools that were cut from the list. "There will be schools and parents and students who will be disappointed," Davis said. "The purpose for high-improving schools is to provide incentives. We stay true to that process." APS administrators had questioned the validity of the list of schools showing high improvement Thursday morning in a meeting with Superintendent Brad Allison, said Longfellow Elementary principal Emma Armendariz. She had expected to receive $19,207 from the state for materials and staff training for her school, which was on the reward list although its scores had dropped. "We have been trying to get an explanation for it," Armendariz said. "We don't want the carpet to be pulled out from under us." The schools on the list had not yet been formally notified they were on it, nor had money been distributed. The amounts varied from school to school, depending on enrollment. Los Lunas High School, for instance, was supposed to receive $117,939, the highest amount on the list. Los Lunas officials could not be reached late Thursday to obtain test data. The Albuquerque elementary schools that had made the list are Apache, Armijo, Collett Park, Dolores Gonzales, Eubank, Eugene Field, John Baker, La Luz, Lavaland, Longfellow, Los Ranchos, McCollum, Tomasita and Wherry and Washington Middle School. All the above schools had declining scores; however, Washington had gone up a point in eighth-grade testing but dropped six points in the sixth grade. Placitas Elementary principal Kennie Warren admitted she had been surprised by her school's award  $10,607 which was equal to half of her supply budget  when she knew her school's test scores had dropped. Her Bernalillo district had cut its budget this year due to declining enrollment. "I'd hate for the money to be taken away from us," Warren said earlier this week. Some schools that showed high improvement in scores questioned why they were not on the list. "I felt pretty confident we would get an award," said Santo Domingo Elementary principal Frank Fast Wolf, whose school had been publicly praised by state board members for improved scores. Rael said there was a problem, as yet unexplained, with the way the data was read for Santo Domingo, but it will likely be "one of the happy schools" after the new list is issued. Albuquerque's superintendent had little to say about the issue in a prepared statement Thursday night. "He's less concerned about a mathematical error than he is about the whole accountability system that the state has developed, which he thinks is flawed," APS spokesman Rigo Chavez said for Allison. Rael said any errors in compiling the list have nothing to do with the state's new rating system, which was implemented in August. The new system  which lists schools as exemplary, exceeds standards, meets standards and probationary  will be used next year to evaluate schools for the high-improvement list. Assistant state superintendent Kathryn Weil said earlier this week that the state could not evaluate the schools yet under the new system, so the reward list now under scrutiny was based on the previous year's methodology. Under the current system, elementary school improvement was only based on fourth-grade scores, and middle schools were reflected by their sixth- and eighth-grade scores. Next year's list will compare scores in the third through ninth grades. Other factors used to evaluate the schools were the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches and the number of students with limited English proficiency, along with mobility rates in the population, Weil said.


-- Doris (reaper@pacifier.com), October 20, 2000

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