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Group Investigates ‘Achievement Gap’

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A national Latino civil rights group announced Sunday it is launching an investigation into New Mexico’s “achievement gap,” or the persistence of lower test scores and graduation rates among Hispanic students compared with non-Hispanic peers.

An attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, MALDEF, said at a news conference at Albuquerque High School that the investigation will look into New Mexico school funding and its relation to student performance measures. The press conference was held by the Latino Education Task Force, a grass-roots, statewide education group.

MALDEF has previously filed lawsuits in New Mexico protesting immigration raids on high school campuses and seeking bilingual education provisions.

Hispanics, combined with black and Native American students, account for 70 percent of New Mexico students, according to the Latino Education Task Force.

But in reading and math proficiency, as well as graduation rates, Latinos lag behind Anglo students. Across the state, about 69 percent of Anglo third-graders are proficient in reading, compared wiht about 48 percent of Hispanic students. By eighth grade, about 72 percent of Anglo students read proficiently while about 49 percent of Hispanic students did, according to 2011-12 data from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The achievement gap, which has been much discussed in recent years, has been the focus of reform efforts launched by the state and APS. The state’s new A-F grading system emphasizes improvements among the lowest 25 percent of students. Teacher evaluations proposed by the district and the state would reward teachers for student performance.

Diane Torres-Velásquez, chairwoman of the Latino Education Task Force, said the gap violates the New Mexico constitution, which promises a uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of all school children in the state.

“Is our current system of education sufficient?” she asked. “We say no.”

Despite the 2010 Hispanic Education Act, which aims to examine and improve Hispanic education in New Mexico, Torres-Velásquez said, “In high schools, there has been no progress toward closing the achievement gap.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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