SANTA FE — Critics say New Mexico's formula for grading its 830 public schools is a confusing mess, but Gov. Susana Martinez is sticking with the system she championed.

Martinez on Friday vetoed a bill that would have maintained the A-through-F grading system for schools but refined it. School administrators, teachers and Democrats in the Legislature all say the grading system is inaccurate and impossible for teachers, principals and parents to understand.

Martinez, a Republican who fought for the A-through-F system two years ago as a newly elected governor, accused critics of trying to hold onto ineffective education policies that have held back the state.

Martinez also vetoed two other education bills approved by the Democrat majorities in the Legislature.

One would have barred the state from paying for-profit companies to manage charter schools. The other would have stopped a push by the state Public Education Department's leader, Hanna Skandera, to tie teacher evaluations to student scores on standardized tests.

"National experts in accountability and evaluation have scrutinized and continue to monitor New Mexico's A-F system and teacher evaluation system," Martinez said in her veto message. "They won't accept schemes that water down rigorous accountability, and New Mexicans will not accept low-bar expectations."

Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, sponsored the bills to refine the A-F grading system and to establish multiple measures for principal and teacher evaluations.


He wanted to restrict the use of student scores on standardized tests to evaluate teachers, calling it a poorly reasoned idea.

Morales said that many teachers at the high school level do not even teach subjects in which standardized tests are administered, showing the folly of the evaluation plan.

He said Martinez's administration advances programs that are top-heavy with standardized tests, but deficient in promoting learning and real student achievement.

Morales said his A-F grading bill was an opportunity to make school ratings clear, understandable and statistically valid. They are none of those today, he said.

"What we have right now is a replica of what happened in Florida and other states. It doesn't work," Morales said.

Even Paul Aguilar, a deputy to Skandera, told legislators that the existing A-F formula was so convoluted that no more than five people in the state understood it.

Sen. Bill Soules, a high school teacher of statistics, said the state grading system does a disservice. Soules, D-Las Cruces, said Martinez's model is weighted so that when one school rises another must decline. It is not a fair or accurate measurement of how schools are performing, he said.

Morales also criticized the narrow scope of school ratings. Only the standardized scores of junior class members count toward a high school's grade under the existing system, he said.

Martinez did not address the criticisms of how school grades are calculated, but she said Morales and others were defenders of methods that had led to underachievement.

"I am vetoing each of the legislative proposals listed in this message because they all represent a misguided effort to protect and defend a status quo that has failed our kids and left New Mexico at the bottom of national education rankings for too many years," Martinez said.

Of the vetoes, Morales said: "They were not surprising but they were disappointing."

Skandera in 2012 sought legislative approval for a teacher evaluation system tied to student scores on standardized tests. The bill cleared the House of Representatives but not the Senate. Skandera began implementing the evaluations anyway, a move that Morales and numerous other Democrats in the Legislature said was wrong.

Martinez also vetoed a bill by Rep. Mimi Stewart to stop the state or its school districts from signing charter school management contracts with for-profit companies.

Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said such contracts already are illegal under New Mexico law, but that Skandera either authorized or stood silent while two of them were approved in Albuquerque and Farmington.

Martinez made only passing reference to the bill in her lengthy veto message. She did not address Stewart's concerns that her administration was violating the law. Martinez instead mentioned the importance of school choice.

"We must constantly innovate to ensure that we are offering parents choices in their child's education and adequately preparing all students for success in the workplace and in life," Martinez said.

Stewart said for-profit companies were exploiting New Mexico taxpayers, funneling their money to Virginia, where one of the school companies is headquartered.

Milan Simonich, Santa Fe bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at