ALBUQUERQUE – Most New Mexico students are not proficient when it comes to math, science or language arts, but top education officials said Thursday they have “concrete specific strategies” to get the state on a path to where it sees improvements each year.
Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus and members of his team rolled out the results of last spring's statewide assessments during a virtual roundtable with reporters.
The results showed only 25% of students tested were proficient or better in math and about one third were proficient or better when it came to science and reading and writing. For those in kindergarten to second grade, 69% fell short of the proficiency mark in early literacy.
New Mexico is using a new tool to gauge progress and officials stressed that the results can’t be compared to previous years. Still, they acknowledged that the state has a history of low student achievement and that the pandemic only helped to accentuate the challenges.
Nationally, a study made public Thursday found that math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-old students fell sharply during the pandemic, underscoring the impact of two years of learning disruptions.
The results released in New Mexico create a new baseline from which officials said they can set realistic goals and develop strategies and funding priorities using empirical evidence. Another goal of making the change was to provide teachers with timely data that can help inform their work in the classroom.
Matthew Goodlaw, the director of research, evaluation and accountability with the state Public Education Department, said the assessments show that substantial disparities remain between student groups.
In 2018, a state judge ruled that New Mexico had fallen short of its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education to many K-12 students, including Native Americans, English learners, and those who come from low-income families or have disabilities. The court said students had unequal access to qualified teachers, quality school buildings, and other lessons that engage them tailored to 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 opportunity gaps to participate in advanced placement classes. youth leadership programs or other extracurricular activities that would help to boost learning.
“From a high performance lens, these results don't pass muster and we don't pretend that they do,” he said. “We are looking at the data with clear and eager eyes."
Republican lawmakers raised concerns about the low scores, saying their legislative proposals for improving the state's beleaguered education system were ignored by the Democratic majority and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during the last session. Those measures centered on school choice and local control.
The Republican nominee for governor, Mark Ronchetti, linked the student assessment results to extended school closures during the pandemic under emergency health orders from Lujan Grisham.
Goodlaw said the department will be working with local districts to identify schools that could use specific support.
The department will encourage districts to have town halls with parents and families in the coming weeks. A portal for parents to access information also will be available on the department's website later this month.
Steinhaus said New Mexico also is working on expanding teacher recruitment and professional development. There were over 1,000 vacancies in classrooms around New Mexico last year, and he said that has been reduced by 300 this year.
The Public Education Department also is entering its third year of an effort to train teachers on the science behind learning to read. Steinhaus said a similar effort is underway in Mississippi and significant improvement has been made over the last decade.
“If it's working in Mississippi, let's make it work in New Mexico,” he said.
Steinhaus said the department still has more numbers to crunch but that data from the assessments include bright spots where children who are “in really tough situations” are achieving at high levels. He said the department wants to learn from those examples where teachers are reaching students.
“Every single child in New Mexico can achieve at high levels," he said. “We've just got to figure out a way to meet them where they're at and relate the learning to their lives and we can help them achieve.”