FARMINGTON — Area high schools earned higher scores on the state's A-to-F school assessments, while many elementary and middle schools saw their grades drop or remain the same over the previous year.

Grades for the state's 839 schools were released last week, and about 70 percent of schools maintained or increased their scores, according to a statement from Gov. Susana Martinez.

Grades from the state Public Education Department are determined using a number of factors, including reading and math scores from state testing, attendance, enrollment and reading proficiencies. College and career readiness are among the factors for high schools' grades.

Jon Austria   The Daily TimesLaurel Dillard works on an algebra problem with her students earlier this month at Aztec High School.
Jon Austria The Daily Times Laurel Dillard works on an algebra problem with her students earlier this month at Aztec High School. (The Daily Times)

The grading system has had its critics, including state Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City. Morales and others say the grading formula relies too heavily on standardized tests and may not provide a complete picture of a school's performance. They also point to some schools that have swung from high grades to low grades from one year to the next as evidence that the system is unreliable.

Martinez has blocked efforts to change the grading formula.

The grades for the area school districts -- Aztec, Bloomfield, Central Consolidated and Farmington school districts -- and their 46 schools were a mixed bag. Sixteen schools saw their grades improve over last year, while 15 schools saw their grades drop. Another 15 showed no change over last year.

Two school districts had more schools improve their grades than drop or remain the same. The Central Consolidated School District saw six schools improve, while four declined and six remained the same. In the Aztec Municipal School District, three schools improved while two dropped and one remained the same.

Matthew Tso, Central Consolidated School District board president, said he was impressed with how his district did compared with other area school districts and those across the state.

"Our district is doing something very well to have that type of growth," Tso said. "Compared to where our district was two years ago, the difference is like night and day."

Kirtland Central High School, which is within CCSD, was one of two high schools in the area to receive an A grade. The other was Piedra Vista High School in Farmington.

CCSD is the only area school district with elementary schools that earned a B grade -- Grace B. Wilson, Kirtland, Nizhoni and Ojo Amarillo elementary schools. Nizhoni jumped three grades from a F last year.

The district also had the only F grades -- Newcomb Middle and Mesa Elementary schools -- among the four districts. Mesa has received an F for two consecutive years.

"Just looking at the data and the numbers, it shows we have work to do at our schools," Tso said.

Aztec did not have any schools with B grades last year, and superintendent Kirk Carpenter said he was happy with the B grades Aztec and Vista Nueva high schools received.

"We had three (schools) that made some changes and two that fell back," Carpenter said. "We'll celebrate the things we are happy about and dig into the data where we fail."

Carpenter said the setup of the district's elementary schools may have factored into the grades. Throughout the state, reading proficiency slightly increased at a third-grade level, while scores dropped for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. In Aztec, McCoy and Lydia Rippey elementary schools teach kindergarten to third grade while Park Avenue Elementary has fourth and fifth grade.

Among Bloomfield schools, four dropped a grade letter -- three of them going from C to D.

Chuck Culpepper, the district's director of curriculum and assessment, said he was pleased to see Bloomfield and Charlie Y. Brown high schools improve but was not sure why four schools dropped.

"I'm a little perplexed," he said. "I think we worked harder than that and I don't know (how) we ended up where we ended up."

One area Culpepper was trying to improve was courses for students learning English as a second language, an area the district's test data showed needed improvement.

"Another strange thing was the third grade took a fundamentally different test than the year before," Culpepper said.

This year's third-grade test kept questions from last year but also introduced new testing on elements of "Common Core State Standards." Those are new academic guidelines designed to help standardize a national school curriculum.

In the Farmington Municipal School District, five schools saw their grades improve, five dropped and seven did not change. The majority of the schools in the district received C and D grades.

In an email, Robert Emerson, the district's assistant superintendent of educational services and data management, said he feels the grades determined by the state have not been clearly explained to districts.

"Because the grading system is not adequately explained to us, it is hard to evaluate the other measures included in the computation of school grades," Emerson said. "We always look at a number of metrics (attendance, graduation rates, student discipline, teacher and program effectiveness, to name a few) and look at them over time to get a true picture of school performance."

Still, Emerson believes the data will help prepare for next year's testing and the upcoming school year.

"There is a lot of data in the grade reports that can be used to identify opportunities for improvement although more detailed data will also be used in the planning process for the coming year," Emerson said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.