Good news tempered as only half of students read at grade level
Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
Standardized test scores for high school students went up significantly across New Mexico this year, while scores in the younger grades were a mixed bag.
But for the second straight year, the state’s overall proficiencies stubbornly refused to budge – they show 50.6 percent of students reading at grade level and 42 percent scoring proficiently in math.
State education chief Hanna Skandera said that although the percentage of proficient students remains low, there are some reasons to celebrate – particularly the reading levels of 11th graders, which improved by about 10 percentage points.
At Albuquerque Public Schools, the scores were slightly higher than the state average. Superintendent Winston Brooks said he is pleased with the district’s high school results, but he said APS has to focus on elementary-level math, where a number of schools slipped.
Skandera pointed to the gains among the state’s 11th-graders as evidence that students, families and teachers have risen to meet high standards.
“I think the conclusion we can draw from these results is, students and our teachers and our schools respond when we set a bar and say, ‘We have an expectation, let’s deliver on it,’ ” Skandera said.
The 11th-grade test has become more high-stakes in recent years, since passing it is now required for graduation. The passing score on the test was also raised in 2011.
The number of juniors who scored “proficient” or above on the reading test increased from 45.6 percent in 2012 to 55.5 percent this spring. Juniors saw more modest gains in math, from 39.2 percent proficient to 42 percent.
The 11th-grade reading gains were more pronounced among groups that traditionally score lower on standardized tests. In fact, Anglo students saw the lowest gains, increasing 6.1 percentage points. American Indian students saw the steepest increase, at 11.3 percentage points. Hispanic students increased by 10.6 points and black students increased by 8.9 points. Improvements were also more pronounced among low-income students.
APS mirrors that trend, with 11th-grade reading up from 50.8 percent proficient to 59.3 percent. APS also saw improved reading proficiencies at all 13 of its comprehensive high schools. The most pronounced growth was at Atrisco Heritage Academy, where reading proficiency increased by 14.3 percentage points.
Brooks said he would like to see major gains but is realistic about the pace of change in a district the size of APS.
“I’d love to see a huge jump, but when you have 140 schools, volume isn’t going to let you move down too much or up too much in a year,” Brooks said. He said he and his staff tend to look more at long-term trend data.
“Our trend data in reading looks pretty good, and our trend data in math looks pretty flat,” Brooks said.
But he said he is pleased to see that some of the district’s turnaround efforts are bearing fruit. For example, the district has focused on Emerson Elementary, giving the school a mostly new staff and a renewed focus on teaching students learning English. Math proficiency at Emerson increased by 10 percentage points and reading increased from 24 percent proficient to 31.4 percent.
At the elementary level, Skandera focused on third-grade reading proficiency, which is up slightly statewide from 52.3 percent to 55.2 percent.
Skandera also pointed to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade reading scores as disappointing areas. In all those grade levels, the percentage of proficient students statewide has decreased somewhat since last year. Fourth-grade had the biggest drop, from 49.8 percent proficient to 45.7 percent.
However, the math scores for those levels were flat or increased slightly.
Gov. Susana Martinez has made third-grade reading a priority and has pushed unsuccessfully for a law that would hold back third-graders who cannot read at grade level. In a news release, Martinez said the latest scores are an argument for third-grade retention, since the older elementary students who are not proficient may have been promoted from third grade without adequate skills.
“If we can begin to better prepare students in early grades to read, then we can improve the achievement of our students throughout the rest of elementary, middle, and high school. Learning only gets harder for students who are passed along without the ability to read well,” she said in the release.
Martinez has also championed a competitive grant program called “New Mexico Reads to Lead,” which requires districts to submit a plan for improving reading in the early grades. Winning districts received grants to carry out their plans.
Of the 12 districts and one charter that received “Reads to Lead” funding, 10 saw their third-grade reading scores improve. Skandera said this shows that targeted funding, coupled with accountability, gets results.
In Rio Rancho, the district was celebrating the fact that the percentage of Rio Rancho High juniors who are proficient in reading is nearly double the state average. Districtwide, reading scores increased, while math scores fell.
Source: New Mexico Public Education Department