Rio Rancho students are still performing better overall than their peers across the state in math and reading, according to test scores released this week.
In addition, scores at both comprehensive high schools saw double-digit increases, and the struggling Puesta del Sol Elementary saw gains as well.
The New Mexico Public Education Department on Thursday released the results from the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment, which is taken every spring to measure student proficiency in math and reading. Statewide, 50.8 percent of students in grades three through eight and grades 10 and 11 scored at or above proficiency in reading, and 42.9 percent were proficient in math. This is the first year 10th-graders were tested.
For Rio Rancho Public Schools students, 64.3 percent scored at or above proficiency in reading and 60.3 percent were proficient in math. The reading numbers were flat compared to last year, but the number of students proficient in math grew by three percentage points.
Carl Leppelman, RRPS associate superintendent, said there was cause to celebrate. Scores at V. Sue Cleveland High and Rio Rancho High saw dramatic increases.
The largest showing for both schools was in math. Cleveland’s math scores went from 49.3 percent of students proficient in 2011 to 70.5 percent in 2012. Rio Rancho increased its math scores by 13 percentage points, with 62.7 percent of students proficient. At Cleveland, nearly 74 percent of students were proficient in reading, also a jump of 13 percentage points.
Leppelman said there were several contributing factors.
“Teachers had a clear understanding of what the targets were,” he said. “And we made sure students were ready for the assessment.”
He said in math, teachers revisited and incorporated important concepts all year so students would not forget what they had learned. He added that students were also more motivated to do well because, for the first time, they need to pass the test in order to graduate.
Bryan Garcia, principal of Puesta del Sol, said he was excited to see the school make improvements. It has struggled to meet state standards, usually falling short. However, reading scores jumped from 48.9 percent of students proficient to 58.4 percent. Math scores increased to 51.8 percent from last year’s 46.9 percent.
Leppelman said he believes the school’s daily, 45-minute reading and math intervention blocks have made a big difference. During the two sessions, students are divided into groups based on their level and are instructed accordingly. For example, students having trouble reading would all be placed in the same group and given extra reading instruction while advanced students would sit together and participate in enrichment activities.
The staff use data from in-house tests to determine where a student is at during the school year.
“We really monitored and revisited our goals for students weekly,” he said. “Staff knew where students were academically on a daily basis.”
He said parents made a huge difference, as well, and the school went out of its way to engage them by hosting monthly family nights that included dinner because he felt many families would not come if they had to cook dinner beforehand. He said the literacy and math nights were attended by 250 to 300 people.
“In the past during these family nights, we would show parents what their child was doing in the classroom,” he said. “This past year, for the first time, we showed them activities they could do at home to improve reading and math skills – things they may not have considered like cooking, reading a menu or even a magazine.”
It was not all good news. Eagle Ridge Middle School saw its reading scores drop 6 percentage points to 52.8 percent and although math rose by 3 percentage points, less than half of the school’s students were proficient in math.
“There is some good news and some areas to work on,” Leppelman said. “We have to go back to the drawing board. I think we need to see what’s working and change that and benchmark things that made a positive difference.”