By Rob Nikolewski
September 10, 2013
SANTA FE – If you want to know how your local high school is doing on things like enrollment, test scores and graduation rates, you can find the data in seconds on the Public Education Department website.
But if you want to find out how two of the state’s three land grant schools are doing on such metrics, you’ll have a much harder time.
In fact, a New Mexico Watchdog investigation could find precious little student data online from the New Mexico School for the Deaf and the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
The third school funded with land grant dollars, the New Mexico Military Institute, offers a large amount of student statistics on its website, including test score results, but other measures such as enrollment and retention numbers were not found.
Since they were founded as land grant schools before New Mexico even became the nation’s 47th state, the three schools are not directly under the Public Education Department’s umbrella. Yet all three receive millions in state funding.
The military institute, for example, received more than $23 million this past year from the state’s maintenance and permanent funds, distributed by the State Land Office. The NMSD and NMSBVI each received more than $11.6 million.
The schools for the deaf and the visually impaired are technically listed as part of the state’s Higher Education Department, but essentially operate on their own, with separate boards of regents providing oversight.
The military institute, which includes junior college students as well as high school students, is a member of the Higher Education Department, but also has its own board of regents.
“We are currently working on how to show our test scores, to be more transparent with the growth of our students and how they’re progressing” said NMSD middle and high school principal Terry Wilding, through a sign language interpreter, to New Mexico Watchdog.
Two accreditation firms “recommended we do a better job of showing our data,” Wilding said. A new NMSD website is in the works, although Wilding did not have a time frame for its launch.
“The data is not on the website, no,” said NMSBVI Superintendent Linda Lyle. “Our families know how things are going. We’re forthcoming with our families … I consider the School for the Blind to be absolutely transparent.”
“We are very transparent about what we do,” NMMI Superintendent Gen. Jerry Grizzle told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview. “But I am given that money (from the Land Office) to run this school. It doesn’t say that I will achieve certain enrollment or retention standards. It never has.”
It should be stressed that New Mexico Watchdog requests for data concerning enrollment and retention rates were supplied in a timely manner by all three schools.
But while unlike the straight-forward, easy-to-access webpage found on the PED website (click here, for example, to see finance numbers), the sites for the schools for the deaf and visually impaired don’t offer a similar mechanism and practically no student data to peruse.
“You’re the first person who’s ever asked about that,” said NMSBVI’s Lyle. “And there’s no reason we can’t do that. I will make that happen.”
Apples and oranges
In Watchdog’s interviews with officials, they emphasized their institutions are different than other public schools in the state, and said comparisons are unfair.
“We measure the whole child,” Wilding said. “The key is how to find test results that are unique to us.”
Compared to the enrollment at PED schools, student numbers for the land grand schools are very small: just 132 for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade at NMSD’s main Santa Fe campus and 60 students receiving services on the residential campus at NMSBVI. The military institute, which includes a two-year junior college, has 946 this school year.
“I think all three of us (land grand schools) are very willing to be forthcoming, but it’s just difficult to report things or even for people to ask for things that are meaningful when you’re comparing it to a district that has thousands of kiddos,” Lyle said.
True, it may not be fair to compare the test scores, for example, from the School for the Deaf with Santa Fe High, but it could be helpful to compare the three schools’ data with their own numbers over a period of time. That way, a comparison can be made within the school itself.
“That makes sense to me as well,” Wilding said.
Numbers obtained by New Mexico Watchdog show that at the School for the Deaf, 12th-grade graduation numbers have dropped. After posting graduation rates consistently in the 70-90 percent range, graduation rates fell to the 50 percent range in the two most recent school years.
Why? Because the school adopted a new program two years ago to have some students stay in the high school program more than four years, Wilding said.
“We’ve changed our approach in terms of providing job training, more classes and experience in high school while they’re still here,” Wilding said. “Which is why you see more and more students who are seniors who may repeat that year for two or three years until we feel like, and they and their families feel like, they are ready to go to a transition program, whatever that may be. Maybe it’s in the job force, maybe it’s college. maybe it’s a job training program.”
Earlier this month, the state’s Public Education Department was rated first among all 50 state education departments for making spending data available to the public on their websites.
The Cato Institute study singled out the PED website: “Very easy for a layperson to locate the desired data,” the report said. “All relevant data are in close proximity with a main menu that is clear and commonsensical.”
Perhaps the three land grant schools can use the PED website as a model going forward.
“There’s no reason every member of the public that wanted the information can’t have it,” Lyle said. “That’s easily rectified.”
Click here to look at the data NMSBVI supplied New Mexico Watchdog.
Click here for the numbers supplied by NMSD.
And click here for the responses from NMMI.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski