New assessments show NM students still struggling

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ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — Most students in New Mexico are not fluent in math, science or language arts, but top education officials said Thursday they have “specific concrete strategies” to get the state back on track where it sees improvements every year.

Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus and members of his team presented the results of last spring’s statewide assessments during a virtual roundtable with reporters.

The results showed that only 25% of the students tested were proficient or better in mathematics and around a third were proficient or better in science, reading and writing. For those in kindergarten to grade two, 69% did not achieve the proficiency score in early literacy.

New Mexico is using a new tool to assess progress, and officials stressed that the results cannot be compared to previous years. Still, they acknowledged that the state had a history of low academic achievement and that the pandemic had only heightened the challenges.

Nationally, a study released Thursday found that the math and reading scores of 9-year-old American students fell sharply during the pandemic, underscoring the impact of two years of learning disruptions.

The findings released in New Mexico create a new baseline from which officials said they can set realistic goals and develop funding strategies and priorities using empirical evidence. Another goal of this change was to provide teachers with timely data that can help inform their work in the classroom.

Matthew Goodlaw, director of research, assessment and accountability at the state’s Department of Public Education, said assessments show substantial disparities remain between groups of students.

In 2018, a state judge ruled that New Mexico had failed in its constitutional obligation to provide adequate education for many K-12 students, including Native Americans, English learners and those who come from low-income families or who have a disability. The tribunal said students had unequal access to qualified teachers, quality school buildings and other courses that engaged them based on their cultural background and needs.

Officials noted Thursday that a significant percentage of the public school population still falls into one, if not more, of those categories.

The disparities are largely the result of what Goodlaw described as gaps in opportunity to participate in advanced placement classes. youth leadership programs or other extracurricular activities that would help stimulate learning.

“From a high-performance perspective, these results don’t pass the mark and we’re not claiming they do,” he said. “We look at the data with clear, eager eyes.”

Republican lawmakers raised concerns about the low scores, saying their legislative proposals to improve the state’s beleaguered education system were ignored by the Democratic majority and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the last session. These measures centered on school choice and local control.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti has linked student assessment results to extended school closures during the pandemic under Lujan Grisham’s emergency health orders.

Goodlaw said the department will work with local districts to identify schools that could benefit from specific support.

The department will encourage districts to hold town halls with parents and families in the coming weeks. A portal for parents to access information will also be available on the department’s website later this month.

Steinhaus said New Mexico is also working to expand teacher recruitment and professional development. There were more than 1,000 vacancies in New Mexico classrooms last year, and he said that has been reduced by 300 this year.

The Department of Public Education is also entering its third year of efforts to train teachers on the science behind learning to read. Steinhaus said a similar effort is underway in Mississippi, and significant improvements have been made over the past decade.

“If it works in Mississippi, let’s make it work in New Mexico,” he said.

Steinhaus said the department still has more numbers to analyze, but the data from the assessments includes positives where kids who are in “really tough situations” are hitting highs. He said the department wants to learn from these examples where teachers are reaching students.

“Every child in New Mexico can achieve high levels,” he said. “We just have to find a way to meet them where they are and connect the learning to their lives and we can help them succeed.”

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