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Student Test Scores ‘Flat’

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The overall standardized test scores did not budge much this year for either the state or Albuquerque Public Schools.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed that we’re flat,” Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks said. “You obviously are hopeful you’ll have more lift than we saw this year. I think it just causes us to go back and look at what we’re doing, what we still need to do and what our weaknesses are.”

Overall, results from this year’s state Standards-Based Assessment showed that 50.8 percent of students are reading at grade level, and 42.9 percent of students are proficient or better at grade-level math. Both of those numbers are up about 1 percentage point from last year.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, 51.4 percent of students scored proficient in reading, and 43.7 percent were proficient in math – both slightly higher than the statewide rates but essentially unchanged from last year.

Statewide, certain areas saw pronounced improvement. Seventh-grade math proficiency is up 4.1 percentage points, to 41.7 percent. And fourth-grade reading rose 3.4 percentage points, to 49.9 percent. And only one showed a decline of more than one percentage point – 11th-grade reading dropped 2.5 points to 45.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the brightest spots for APS included seventh-grade math with a 2.9 percentage point improvement to 42.5 percent and fourth-grade reading, which rose 3.4 points to 51 percent. However, four of the grades posted lower scores in math and two posted lower scores in reading than the previous year.

Gov. Susana Martinez said the statewide improvements are promising but are not enough.

“These results highlight the critical need to continue reforming education in New Mexico,” Martinez said in a written statement. “The increases we’ve seen are promising, but small. We know how far we must go to truly improve education in New Mexico so that every child is able to succeed inside the classroom and in life.”

For about 23,000 students who are entering their senior year of high school, the results have a personal impact. For the first time, the 11th-grade SBA serves as the exit exam for high school students, which means students must earn passing scores in math and reading to graduate.

According to a Public Education Department news release, 10,306 students will need to take at least one portion of the SBA again to graduate. Students will have a chance to retake the test in the fall, and another chance next spring. About 57 percent of juniors earned the scores needed to graduate on their first try.

This is the first year that SBA scores have been released without the accompanying “adequate yearly progress” designations that were required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Last year, 87 percent of New Mexico’s schools were designated as failing to meet AYP.

Annual AYP targets have become increasingly tough to meet since NCLB was passed in 2001, and a school can miss the mark if even one group of students – like those with special needs or those learning English – does not reach proficiency goals.

New Mexico was granted a waiver in February from certain provisions of the act, in exchange for pledging to hold schools accountable, adopt Common Core standards and evaluate teachers at least partly based on student achievement.

As part of that waiver, New Mexico is no longer required to calculate whether schools made AYP but will instead assign letter grades to schools based on a formula developed at the PED. The grades are based on test scores, whether those scores are improving over time and other factors like how many students take Advanced Placement courses.

Preliminary school grades were released in January, and final grades are expected this summer. Those final grades have been distributed to school districts, but not to the public.

The school grades are a major plank of state education chief Hanna Skandera’s reform platform, along with revamped teacher evaluations and a proposal to hold back third-graders who are not proficient in reading. Skandera said in a written statement that this year’s scores are still too low and show the need for her reform agenda.

“Improvement is promising, but our children deserve better,” Skandera said. “Less than one year ago, we released the 2011 SBA scores as a call to embrace reform, and it’s clear that mandate remains. While the sharp, three-year decline in third-grade reading has leveled off, no one should argue we’ve reached the goal of success we want for our kids. Only half of our students reading on grade level and less than half proficient in math are the result of the status quo, and it needs to change.”

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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