AIMing to Game The School Grade System: ABQ Institute of Math & Science

Over the years, whenever the issue of education reform and achievement is raised, foaming-at-the-mouth NM reform advocates, such as the Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board, breathlessly (maybe because of all the foam in their mouth) spew the example of AIMS (Albuquerque Institute of Math & Science).

Here’s just one example, from 2014, of the Journal Board in full foamy laudatory expectoration:

It’s No. 48 on The Washington Post’s 2014 list of most challenging high schools – public and private.

It’s in the top 25 percent of Newsweek’s 2014 top 2,000 schools in the country.

It’s a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

It received an “A” from the New Mexico Department of Education in 2012 and 2013.

More than 94 percent of its students are proficient in reading and math, with no achievement gap.

That recognition and achievements – and more importantly, that level of education – are what New Mexico students, parents, employers, taxpayers and leaders have been seeking for years.

Oh, and it’s all absolutely free to any 6-12 public school student in New Mexico who applies and wins admission through a lottery.

We’re talking about the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science charter school.

Wow! Some place! And all of the above is true. But let us again look at this year’s Legislative Education Study Committee Report to the Legislature to go a bit deeper into discovering why AIMS is so very great and (boo! hiss!) schools in APS are so very bad.

First, let’s confirm the great and the bad via the utterly unquestionable Public Education Department “School Grades” for AIMS versus, to pick a school, Albuquerque High School. AHS is picked because your humble blogger knows it fairly well, and, more importantly, it shows up on the same page of the table:


Actually, AHS hangs in there pretty well, keeping at least a “C” over the years, while AIMS is pristine in its “A-ness” (yes, that “A” could be used to form other words, but this isn’t that kind of blog).

So why is AIMS so great and AHS relatively mediocre, or worse? Here are two other tables available in the LESC report. The first is the number and percentage of Gifted and Special Education students in AIMS v. APS overall. The second is the number/percentage of English Language Learners:




Yes, you are correct in discerning that AIMS has one Special Education student and 158 Gifted students. That’s .3% SpEd and 44% Gifted of their 357 student population. And yes, AIMS has one English Language Learner (ELL), accounting for .3%, again, of the school’s student population.


One of each.

Noting the APS figures, numbers obviously more in line with those in the overall student population, you have to wonder how the Journal Editorial Board’s gush that a AIMS student “wins admission through a lottery” is completely accurate. How do they rig a lottery in a way that only one SpEd and one ELL kid is at the school? And how do they wind up with almost half of the school identified as “*Gifted”?

And while Special Education and English Language Learners are, thankfully, provided with the best possible education in all schools, and are, again thankfully, included in the discussion for student growth and achievement, it’s simply the case that a school’s teaching capacity and resource allocation is vastly different when you have .3% SpEd and ELL students versus averages of 15.7% and 16.3%. AIMS gets by not having to provide services and resources fundamental to almost every other school in the city, state and nation.

So, to conclude, you might be a bit puzzled, as am I, when you look at the 2015-2016 “school grade” report for AIMS from PED. Take a gander and see if you’re as confused as me:


Huh? What? So AIMS comparatively ranks 2nd or 3rd in both ELL and “Student with Disabilities,” i.e., Special Education student(s) when it only has one student in each category?

Having written about AIMS gaming the system before, Better Burque brings this up again now because: A. This LESC report is so very good and so very damning; B. We’re in a legislative session, one where funding dollars are being fought over like rice grains in a Mumbai slum. “Evidence” such as that spewed about AIMS is used by reformers to keep per-student charter school funding in New Mexico relatively, and unfairly, high.

Something to think about both as we wind down this funding knife-fight of a session, and look ahead toward correcting these funding disparities in future years.


*It’s important to remember that Gifted students are, uniquely, considered Special Education kids, in terms of funding, in New Mexico. Thus, schools like AIMS with 44% gifted population receive significant Special Education dollars; by my napkin calculation about $440,000 per school year.




20 thoughts on “AIMing to Game The School Grade System: ABQ Institute of Math & Science

  1. This has to be the silliest article about a public school I have ever read and as a former educator, you should be ashamed of yourself. Several errors concerning funding are blatantly false if not outright ignorant. You do know there is no additional funding for gifted students. The one special Ed student, you claim AIMS has would not account for the $400000 funding you claim AIMS gets. You have skewed data to fit some sort of false narrative you hope to trick the uninformed with. You should first apologize for your ignorance and secondly, focus on why APS and AHS can’t mimic these results instead of denouncing success as a fraud.


  2. Informed: I must admit a certain pride in writing ” the silliest article about a public school I have ever read.” There have been so many silly articles about public schools that to possibly dream mine is “silliest” is positively dizzying.

    Still, I must admit my post is far from silly. In fact, do the math, anybody. The “State Equalization Guarantee” adjustment for an A/B Level Special Education student, accounting for just about 100% of Gifted students, is .700. As the 2016-2017 unit is just under $4,000 at $3,979.33, having 158 Gifted students means $440,114 in Special Education funding (please do check my math).

    Thanks for your feedback, Informed. I’d love to chat further about how the success of AIMS is anything but a fraud.


    1. The numbers you quote rely on one fact you seem not to understand about funding Gifted under Special Ed.
      Free appropriate public education” (FAPE) does not apply to students in New Mexico who are gifted. With that, gifted students are not covered under IDEA when it comes to students with disabilities that are required to be provided special education at public expense. State special education rule at NMAC clarifies that the term FAPE only applies to student with disabilities. Therefore, the Level A/B services you quote at an additional 0.7 does not apply to Gifted Students. A simple call to PED, the PEC, or the LESC will confirm and clarify this point for you. I hope this clarifies this matter for your readers too.


  3. Anonymous: As you mention, Gifted is not funded in FAPE under federal Special Education. Nevertheless, Gifted is under the Special Education umbrella, uniquely, in New Mexico. I, for instance, have taught A/B level Gifted education for about 20 years.

    Somebody paid me to do that, over and beyond the “regular” education funding, despite the federal classification and despite the rule you mention. So, were I and my many Gifted teaching brethren in effect stealing from regular education dollars, or were we not funded through Special Education allocations? And if so, why, considering that NM has placed Gifted students under the Special Education umbrella?


    1. Oh and I am still the same person who responded as Informed Citizen. I seem to have commented in the wrong place and I appear as anonymous.


  4. I am not sure how you were paid. I suggest you call payroll at APS or your administrator and clarify that. Do you have a special education endorsement? And you are right, Gifted is under the special education umbrella but it is not funded under the IDEA monies or the SEG you mentioned as part of the funding formula. Gifted students do not receive Level A/B services. The NMAC section I listed above makes clear that public schools, including Charter schools, do not get additional funding for gifted students. So, the $400,000 number you quoted as additional funding for gifted students is erroneous. And I hope you are not equating A/B as gifted only courses. And as a education professional, I am sure you know that a students labeled gifted do not by default, perform above and beyond regular ed students. So, I ask you again, why the uninformed attack on AIMS which appears to be a model of what you would want to see in APS and every other school in New Mexico?


  5. Why would you want all other schools to exclude LEP and special ed students? Where would they go?

    I friend who’s son, who was performing 2-grade levels over his classmates in elementary, lotteried in to AIMS. She strongly suspects, given the long-odds (she’s a statistician), that he was given something more than an equal chance at entry.

    Can you link to your previous article, Scot?


    1. I am not sure where you saw a statement that says LEP or special ed student’s are excluded or should be excluded. I am not sure about your friends experience in getting into AIMS but I can tell you I have three friends, who’s children aren’t gifted and who’s parent’s aren’t statisticians who do attend AIMS. They are grateful that their children are thriving in an academic system that is advanced for all students with the same expectations of excellence for all students. They have hard working staff and challenge the students at a level they didn’t see from the APS schools they previously attended. So, again, why falsely attack this school as somehow being dishonest. First, if you are leveling an accusation that AIMS is dishonest with their lottery system and the parent you are speaking of is comfortable with that dishonesty, it seems odd that parent would advocate for there kid to attend AIMS. Secondly, the article written by jscotkey is factually incorrect and I am glad that he acknowledges he was erroneous when he claimed AIMS receive an additional $400,000 for gifted students.


  6. Thanks to all for the replies, honestly, this information needs to be out there and discussed.

    Biliruben: To answer the question about previous posts, AIMS is been on my radar for some time. Here’s a post way back when then-Mayor Marty Chavez first trumpeted its success:

    And here’s a piece from 2010 as the test numbers started to roll in and acclaim was widespread:

    I have another piece looking at AIMS’ 14-page application, but can’t find it at present. Here’s the application though:

    Look, I have nothing against AIMS or any school that pursues excellence. I only argue that you cannot possibly compare a school with a 13-page application to a true public school that takes every single kid, regardless, absolutely regardless, if they live in the “district.” To do so is silly, yet that silliness is perpetrated over and over again.

    Back to Anonymous and other questions regarding Gifted Ed. receiving SpEd funding. I realize this is a bit of a red herring when it comes to the argument, although I’d LOVE to continue that discussion. Still, for now, how about this: I drop the red herring about SpEd/Gifted funding (albeit painfully), if we can just agree that AIMS had one SpEd kid and one ELL kid in 2015-2016 (I believe that’s the SY LESC used in its tables). The red herring is just that, a red herring.

    As for the interesting question of whether the AIMS lottery is “rigged,” I’ll perhaps naively attribute that to the length of the 13-page application and other hoops. I could be wrong, though.


    1. The SpED monies is easily resolved, just call the LESC and ask, no need to go back and forth on that. Just for fun’s sake let’s just say to get into APS there is a longer application; have you enrolled a student in APS lately? And I challenge you to call AIMS and ask them if the entire application has to be filled out. I have to tell you, I have recently observed a friend of mine drop off the application. The front page was the only thing they handed in and were told if the student was chosen, then they would request the student’s records like every other public school does. I would like to ask you, who applies to St Pius, Albuquerque Academy, Cottonwood Classical, HOPE Christian, etc etc. I don’t know….Where do kids who apply and attend AIMS live and what school would be there home school? I have no idea. I would ask you have you seen AIMS IDEA and SEG funding? I haven’t . I would ask, have you ever observed their lottery process, their application process, there curriculum, the levels of proficiency of admitted student’s: remember the vast majority of student’s admitted each year are sixth graders or did you think they were all gifted HS or older kids who already had the skills that lead to the levels of performance achieved there at AIMS. And finally, AIMS didn’t make the comparison or the system of grading. I wish, before things like this disparaging article or blog are written, you had done some relevant and verifiable research. It was easy to debunk you $400,000 claim by simply asking someone at PED and APS. As for the application process and types of students admitted, I had a little personal experience because of my friend’s experience with their kids attending AIMS. As for the SpED issue you seem to be focused on, I would ask you what the special ed population is at ElDorado, LaCueva and Sandia. You might be surprised at their numbers and their funding and their outcomes. Would love to continue the back and forth but I have to eat dinner. I will check tomorrow for any nuggets of wisdom you have for me tomorrow.


  7. Anonymous, and I admit I wish it were a name other than “Anonymous”: The SpEd percentage you seek from other APS schools, etc. are more than .3%. The LESC report doesn’t break APS schools down, but I feel pretty confident in that estimation. Okay, I honestly feel 100% confident in that estimation. No APS school with more than 75 students, i.e., all of them, has only ONE SpEd student. Period.

    I sense that I have scratched a metaphorical scab, which is not a bad thing. We need to deepen the discussion on all this, and my main complaint is that “school grades” and such don’t do that. So…mission accomplished. That’s why the blog exists.

    That said, returning to my main point, we just can’t compare AIMS “grades” with other schools, nor can we evaluate schools and teachers using such crass statistics and unfair points of comparison.

    That’s all I’m saying.


    1. Do you know which schools AIMS was compared with (there were 36 which were deemed same and similar) and I am not sure what estimation you are 100% confident about? And the $400,000 quote is simply wrong and you seemingly won’t admit that when it’s easily verifiable…But you are right, we need to be more open and “honest” when discussing systematic failure in our public schools (Charter schools are public schools). And you can call me Informed Citizen if you like. That’s the name I started with…..


  8. Anonymous/”Informed Citizen” (btw, I’m a big fan of Alexander Hamilton and he made up names, albeit Roman usually, so anything is better than “anonymous”): I’m 100% confident that La Cueva, Eldorado and any other fully public school in NM with more than 75 students has more than ONE SpEd and/or ELL student. I’d bet on that in a big way.

    As for not admitting about the “$400,000 quote” I’m EAGER in a big way to discuss that further, and will only hold off until we have a chance to have the more germane facts examined in this piece sink in. You do realize the whole Gifted as SpEd funding question is central to my entire teaching career, right? I LOVE talking about that, and am keen to do so in future posts/conversations.

    So…returning to the main point as I see it: Why does AIMS have one SpEd and one ELL kid?


    1. I couldn’t answer that without actually asking someone who actually has first hand knowledge and if you have I would love to know. As for a guess as to why, I would go with their parents don’t apply there versus some type of fraud. LA Cueva has 8.7 percent(their proficiency should be much better) Sandia has 12 percent(their proficiency should be much much better) Cottonwood Classical has 5.5percent(their proficiency should be much much much much better)


  9. Informed: Thanks for finding those numbers. I was looking and couldn’t find them. Do you have a link or three so I can find those and others? Thanks! – Scot


  10. It’s part of the PED archives and transparency initiative. You can check salaries, SEG funding etc etc at the PED website. You can actually see our funding and calculate and see that there is no additional money unless the state is reporting bad numbers. I also called the charter school office at APS for further clarification in funding and lottery process. Some of the information is easily attainable if you know where to look.


  11. If you want to see our funding for Albuquerque High for instance, go to PED website and access SEG funds and use the formula to verify proper funding for every school in the state.


  12. Thanks! Informed. My trips to the PED website often end uninformed. Can you provide me/readers with a direct link? As for the ongoing gifted don’t get no funding dilemma, it’s “funny” that I’m right in the middle of a personal/professional tug of war on this precise point. I hear what you’re saying, but, respectfully maintain that somebody (/italics) is paying for Gifted services. If those of us in Gifted Ed. don’t treat those IEP hours like any other SpEd teacher/parent/student, they go away. I realize this is a funding sleight of hand, but it’s there on the ground, in every Gifted IEP.


  13. Informed: Thanks again for your questions and insights. It has forced me to re-enter the murky world of school finance, and I’m reasserting my position that Gifted students DO generate funding units above and beyond the base SEG. This is confirmed repeatedly in this extremely whiny LESC report on how it views Gifted Education as overfunded. For example:

    “The current unit weight likely over-estimates the true cost of educating gifted students. Gifted funding is designed to cover the additional cost of services, but the majority of gifted students receive services in the regular classroom or in advanced courses also offered to non-gifted students. For a self-contained gifted classroom, the LFC estimates the average per-student cost at $3,525, less than the FY13 unit value of $3,674. For a pull-out model, the most common approach to providing gifted services, it appears the breakeven point for charter schools and school districts is approximately 28 students per gifted teacher.”

    The full report can be found here:


  14. How is it possible that AIMS has not had a single student that qualifies for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program during the last three years? Are students with special needs and/or those with a lower socioeconomic status really not applying to AIMS or do they just have tremendously bad luck when it comes to winning the admission lottery? In any event, the composition of the student body makes it silly to try to compare AIMS to the other APS high schools. Furthermore, the AIMS student body is comprised of grades 6-12. A typical AIMS graduation class (12th grade) may only have 30 students.


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