By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
New Mexico Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia announced Wednesday she was delaying release of the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports because of technical issues. The announcement didn’t stop the debate over Portales Municipal Schools performance on those reports, required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
A special school board meeting called Wednesday to allow administration officials to present those results and the public to ask questions went ahead as scheduled without the results, and several people spoke passionately about the subject.
Chris Christiansen, a parent with five children in Portales schools, said he was concerned that Portales schools were failing AYP. He wanted to know if this would be the third year that Portales schools failed AYP and, if so, who was responsible.
Superintendent Randy Fowler told Christiansen that as superintendent of schools he was responsible.
“We haven’t received official documentation yet, but I assume we will fail this year,” Fowler said.
Christiansen questioned why the schools were not meeting any of the report’s requirements.
Fowler explained that the report uses 37 criteria and each school must meet all of them or it fails. He said that subgroups, in particular special needs students, are factored in because of the size of the schools and have been the main areas of failure for Portales schools as well as other districts.
“This is the third year they’ve said we’re failing, yet 90 percent of our students are passing,” Fowler said. “Every year I’ve been here we’ve improved scores in every area. I do feel like we have good schools that are getting better.”
Portales administration officials point out Portales Schools have been above the state average every year in reading and math.
Among Christiansen’s specific concerns were the inclusion of athletics classes within the school schedule and the need for a clearer college track for students.
Christiansen’s wife, Heather Christiansen, said she was concerned about the lack of instruction days and the fact that research projects aren’t required before the senior year in high school.
“I think the AYP just sort of flags things,” Heather Christiansen said. “I’m not too concerned about AYP itself.”
Wilma Van Dam, a parent with children in Portales schools, said she appreciates the hands-on participation of the principals and teachers, but agrees there needs to be more instruction time.
“We shouldn’t be devoting time to testing that should be spent in learning,” Van Dam said. “We need to raise our expectations and just focus on making them think.”
Vern Witten, a retired professor of mathematics at Eastern New Mexico University, put the same thought even more succinctly.
“We should realize we need to be concerned about a student instead of filling out bubbles on a test,” Witten said. “We’ve got to change the attitude to where we go back to working with individual students.”
Fowler said he didn’t know when the results would be released but the Secretary of Education is required by statute to provide them no later than Aug. 5, which is Sunday. The superintendent told the crowd he planned to review those results at the next regular board meeting Aug. 13.
“I think we had some good things to share today, but we can’t,” Fowler said.