Numbers Game

SFPS and PED use the same test scores to different ends

Here's a quiz: What happened to English language learners--kids whose native language is not English--at Santa Fe public elementary schools between 2009 and 2010?

A. Their reading proficiency increased by 8 percentage points.

B. Their reading proficiency decreased by 0.3-6 percentage points, depending on a student’s grade level.

Have your answer? If you’re a Santa Fe Public Schools administrator, you probably picked choice A.

According to a Feb. 17 report by SFPS Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez--dated the same day the Board of Education voted to renew Gutierrez' contract for another two years--SFPS elementary school students, taken together, saw their reading proficiency increase by 7.2 percent between 2009 and 2010. Economically disadvantaged students, Caucasian students and English language learners stand out: Each subgroup showed gains of more than 8 percentage points.

For middle school students, according to the Feb. 17 report, the gains in reading proficiency are more modest--but they still show improvement across every subgroup. When it comes to math, high school students' proficiency increased by a whopping 12 percentage points between the 2009 and 2010 testing period.

If you had looked recently at New Mexico Public Education Department data, however, you would have picked choice B

Data from New Mexico’s Standards Based Assessment, the statewide test required for all students under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, indicates that, rather than showing significant improvement in math and reading skills, Santa Fe  students instead show only modest improvements or, in some cases, significant declines. [Click here for SFR's charts illustrating the discrepancies.]

For instance, according to PED, reading proficiency among Caucasian sixth-, seventh- and eight-graders dipped significantly, decreasing respectively by 9.9, 7 and 16.7 percentage points--the same year, SFPS reported an 8-point gain among Caucasian middle schoolers.

SFPS officials say the discrepancies exist because the district has a different way of measuring the same test data.

"PED does not use the same grade spans," SFPS Deputy Superintendent Mel Morgan explains. "Some of our elementary schools are K-5; some are K-6."

In calculating its data, Morgan says, SFPS grouped elementary schools together, regardless of grade spans; PED breaks the data down by grade.

But with such stark contrasts between data sets--particularly in high schools, where only 11th graders are tested--some observers are crying foul.

"It's hard to believe that you add in a few more students--the ones that transferred from one school to another, or whatever--and, especially at the high school level, they're probably not likely to bring the scores up," SFPS Board Member Glenn Wikle says. "It didn't make sense to me."

Wikle says he spoke with Gutierrez about his concerns approximately two weeks ago.

"Apparently, she hadn't looked very closely at it," Wikle says. "She told me they would have to recalculate the numbers."

Former SFPS Board President Richard Polese and sitting President Barbara Gudwin tell SFR that, while the report was used to decide whether to extend Gutierrez' contract, it wasn't the only determinant.

"It's one of the elements," Polese says. "[But] there's other aspects, too--student retention, community reaction, parent involvement and so on."

Gutierrez, too, maintains that the data expressed in the Feb. 17 report is only one measure of SFPS students' progress.

"These aren't the major numbers we're going on," Gutierrez says. "These are just the major numbers we're looking at that help us to determine, 'Are we growing? Are we making forward growth and in what areas?'"

But to Wikle, questions remain.

"We want to be reporting accurate numbers, and we want the administration to be giving the board accurate information," Wikle says. "If the board isn't looking carefully, it's easy for the administration to get away with mistakes, and nobody notices."

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