New Mexico Senate Scraps Jeb Bush’s School Grade Formula


Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change continue to run into trouble with their implementation of his policies around the country. In New Mexico, embattled education boss Hanna Skandera is facing rejection. Meanwhile, the New Mexico senate voted to do away with the Bush school grade formula she implemented. From reporter Milan Simonich in the Carlsbad Current-Argus:

SANTA FE – State Sen. Howie Morales says New Mexico’s system of grading schools is an inaccurate mess, and a majority of his colleagues agreed with him Tuesday.

The state Senate voted 23-18 to scrap the grading formula implemented by the Public Education Department and replace it with a different model. Morales’ bill advances next to the House of Representatives for consideration.

All 17 Republicans in the Senate voted against Morales’ bill, as did Democratic Sen. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces. The rest of the Democrats supported Morales call for change, saying the grading formula now used is impenetrable.

“Nobody understands how his grade is being calculated,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Soules, a statistics and science teacher from Las Cruces. Under Morales’ bill, letter grades of A through F would continue to be used to rate the state’s 830 public schools. But the way grades are calculated would change.

Morales, D-Silver City, criticized the existing system as top-heavy with standardized tests. They account for 90 percent of grades for elementary and middle schools and 60 percent for high schools.

“Right now we have the opportunity to test. We need the opportunity to learn,” Morales said.

…Morales’ bill would tie 33 percent of a student’s grade to testing. But his bill allows for a variety of other standards to count toward school grades. They would include attendance, improving truancy rates, students’ participation in extracurricular activities and their readiness for college or the workplace. Morales said that Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of public education, had given contradictory explanations of the grading formula. He said she alternately denied and then agreed that it is dependent on a bell curve.

Skandera has said that New Mexico’s grading system has been much praised nationally, and that it was conceived in consultation with experts. But Soules said the system as it stands is strangled by its grading curve. When one school moves up, another must move down, he said, robbing the system of a true accounting of school performance.

One of Skandera’s deputies, Paul Aguilar, last summer told a legislative committee that the grading formula was so complex that perhaps no more than five people understood it. After that, calls to revamp it escalated.

Skandera, an appointee of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, is in the midst of a Senate confirmation hearing.

Republicans have rallied around her. Skandera’s critics include numerous Democratic senators, and the school grading system is one of the reasons.

Those experts Skandera mentioned are from the Bush foundation. She paid the Foundation’s chief policy fellow, Christy Hovanetz $86,000, This from Anthony Cody:

Paid Christy Hovanetz over $86,000 as a contract consultant. Hovanetz was at the same time a full-time paid senior fellow at Foundation for Excellence in Education (“FEE”) who lives in Minnesota. Hovanetz used boilerplate legislation from FEE (below) to draft all of the Martinez admin education reform bills. FEE paid for Skandera’s travel during the contract with Hovanetz while Skandera used its services to prepare the reform bill.

Cody provided this from the Washington Post:

FEE staff served as advisers to acting education commissioner Hanna Skandera. FEE, and, by extension, its donors, had great influence over New Mexico legislation. In a Jan., 2011, e-mail, Skandera directs a staffer from the legislature to forward all education bills to FEE’s Christy Hovanetz for edits: “Can you send all Governor’s office ed bill language to Christy, including social promotion?” Another FEE staffer, Mary Laura Bragg, wrote to Skandera, “I’m at your beck and call.”

Skandera’s pitch is false advertising. A former aid to former governor Jeb Bush, Skandera’s assertion that the school grade formula is “praised nationally” is no longer credible with the collapse of Florida’s entire accountability system. Even Florida’s senate president, a self-described  “Jeb Bush acolyte,” says that Florida’s accountability system is in “danger of imploding.”

Moreover, Bush’s foundation is finding themselves on the defensive; not only for failed policies, but for improper contacts with state officials. Small wonder recent statements have become shrill.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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