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Guest Column: Most APS Schools Are Making Steady Progress

From a guest column in the Albuquerque Journal written by Winston Brooks on Friday, August 06, 2010.

As you know, Adequate Yearly Progress results were announced this week and much to our disappointment, the number of Albuquerque Public Schools schools that made AYP declined this year from the previous year by nine.

In my four decades in public education, I've learned that excuses don't improve student achievement. I can assure the taxpayers who support Albuquerque Public Schools that when it comes to student achievement and graduation rates there won't be any excuses on my part. I'll offer an explanation or two, but no excuses.

Let me give you some thoughts, and perhaps, provide an explanation or two as to why.

Each year the AYP targets in reading and math increase. This phenomenon will continue until 2014, when the expectation is that 100 percent of students will be proficient in both reading and math. Increased expectations are fine, and in fact, each one of our schools is expected to make significant, verifiable improvements. And they are.

In math, 83 showed gains, and 47 improved in reading in just a year. But increased goals must be balanced by realistic expectations. The problem with AYP is that it demands absolute perfection, and perfection is not easily attained. Where human beings are concerned, it's often impossible to attain.

For a school or district to meet AYP, it must demonstrate proficiency in 37 out of 37 categories. Seventeen APS schools met that mark. Eleven more missed their goal by only one target, meaning they made gains in 97 percent of the categories.

My take: Since when did getting a 97 percent equate to failing?

Fourteen APS schools met 35 of 37 targets, thus making gains in 95 percent.

My take: Since when did 95 percent equate to failing?

Seventeen of our schools met 34 of 37 targets, or 92 percent.

My take: Since when did 92 percent equate to failing?

In all, 59 of our schools met 90 percent or better of their targets. That's not failing, but it points to the weakness in AYP. It makes anything less than 100 percent a failure.

I tell our parents, principals, teachers and students that I care about — and expect — steady progress, and I can show you many schools that have done just that. Here are just a few examples:

McCollum Elementary School improved its math score by 17 percent and its reading score by 10 percent, yet it didn't make AYP.

Polk Middle School improved its math score by nearly 5 percent and its reading score by more than 2 percent, yet it didn't make AYP.

La Cueva High improved its math score by 5 percent and its reading score by more than 3 percent, yet it didn't make AYP.

East San Jose improved its math score by more than 11 percent, Sandia Base by nearly 15 percent, Taft Mid-School by more than 12 percent, and Highland High by nearly 14 percent; yet none of them made AYP.

Same holds true for reading scores: Collet Park improved by 14 percent, Roosevelt Mid-School by 6 percent, and Rio Grande High by more than 13 percent; yet none of them made AYP.

The truth is, we have schools that are succeeding and getting better every day, but we also have some that aren't making the grade. Either way, we have to improve.

I can assure you that we watch each school closely and take major steps when warranted. That's why we executed a complete overhaul of Rio Grande High and Ernie Pyle Middle School two years ago. That's why, in part, more than 30 principal changes were made this spring. That's why we're bringing wonderful magnet schools like Nex+Gen Academy on board later this month.

That's also the reason each school sets growth targets every year.

We're not making excuses, nor are we ignoring poor performance. We're addressing issues with our Board of Education, with the unions, with our parents, with our communities.

But let's give credit where credit is due.

Your children, teachers, principals, educational assistants, custodians, secretaries, food service workers and support staff deserve more recognition for all of their hard work.

Don't let the sound bites and headlines mislead you — APS schools are not failing. They are traveling a very hard road toward perfection.

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