- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The number of New Mexico public schools graded an A or B dropped 10 percent this year, and slightly more schools received a D or F, according to results the Public Education Department released Friday.

The number of New Mexico public schools receiving a D or F climbed 3 percent, to 333 from 323 in 2014.

Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said the decrease in A’s and B’s was expected because the state introduced a more rigorous test to measure students. The data show 297 schools got an A or B this year, down from 332 in 2014.

“We knew this was a baseline year. We implemented new standards, which is the right thing,” Skandera said. “So this was an important year to establish that baseline so our teachers and school leaders should be proud.”

Six out of every 10 schools’ grades remained the same or went up during the 2014-2015 school year. There were 218 schools that received a grade of C.

The grades are based heavily on results of new PARCC tests taken last spring and reflect other factors such as a survey of students.

The disputed teacher evaluations, which a state judge recently ruled could be used to punish or reward teacher while a challenge to the system goes through the courts, aren’t part of the school grades, officials said.

Changes to the school grading system this year include using kindergarten to second-grade DIBELS scores along with third-grade performance. In previous years, those scores were not used.

In addition, high school freshman now are participating in state testing. That means around 20,000 more students from high school will be included to help determine school grades, officials said.

Last school year, the PARCC testing resulted in protests and walkouts around the state organized by critics of Skandera and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly said the results show the drastic disparities between districts, often along socio-economic lines.

“As education professionals, we know our schools serve different populations with unique needs, however we question the necessity of labeling schools as failing,” Ly said.

Skandera said nearly 60 percent of the school leaders who participated in a two-year professional development and mentorship program saw their school’s grades improve by one or more letter grade.

Skandera said it will be her “priority” during the next legislative session to ask lawmakers to help expand that program.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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