Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
After three years, New Mexico students have slightly improved their performance on the PARCC exam, but the scores remain low.
The 2017 results, released Monday, show 28.6 percent proficiency in English language arts and 19.7 percent in math. In 2015, the first year PARCC was administered in New Mexico, the numbers were 26.4 percent and 17.4 percent, respectively.
Albuquerque Public Schools and Rio Rancho Public Schools actually saw English scores decline slightly over the past three years, while math was nearly flat.
English scores for APS dropped 2.1 percentage points and were below the state average in the latest results at 27 percent; math scores increased slightly and were on par at 19.7 percent.
Christopher Ruszkowski, acting secretary of education, pointed to several large districts that saw improvement but acknowledged that APS – with one-quarter of the state’s students at more than 80,000 – had a huge impact on the state’s overall scores.
“No question the largest district is a bellwether of how we are doing,” he told the Journal. “We can’t move forward as a state without our largest district on board.”
APS did not respond to a request for comment.
A Rio Rancho Public Schools spokeswoman said administrators are still reviewing the results and highlighted positives such as double-digit gains in eighth-grade math and English.
“While our results overall indicate areas where students did well, they also reveal areas where we need to improve,” Kim Vesely said in an emailed statement.
Despite the poor growth, RRPS is still one of the top performers in the state – 40 percent of students were proficient in English and 29.2 percent in math, according to the latest data.
Santa Fe Public Schools saw slight gains, with 28.3 percent proficiency in English and 16.5 percent in math.
Ruszkowski said several districts that embraced reforms saw progress on PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers, a computer exam administered in grades 3-11.
Other districts, including Farmington and Belen, signed on for many PED programs and improved their PARCC scores as a result, Ruszkowski said.
Farmington’s scores are now among the best in the state – 39.3 percent proficient in English and 25.5 percent in math, an increase of 11.5 percentage and 5.8 percentage points, respectively, over the past three years.
Gadsden, a district near El Paso, is also above average. In 2017, 31.8 percent of its students were proficient in English and 24.4 percent in math, up 10.7 percentage points and 6.9 percentage points since 2015. Ruszkowski said Gadsden is not signed up with all of the PED programs but has embraced reform similar to PED’s.
Ruszkowski highlighted two PED mentorship programs he feels are driving significant change: Principals Pursuing Excellence and Teachers Pursuing Excellence. The efforts target low-performing schools and educators for additional support. PED graphics show that schools in those programs, while starting at lower levels, showed more growth than the rest of the schools.
Farmington’s Heights Middle School is participating in both programs and has seen English proficiency rise 15.8 percentage points from 2015 to 2017, while math proficiency is up 14.2 percentage points.
Similar schools in Belen and Alamogordo are also posting strong gains.
“We need the whole state to be where these schools are,” Ruszkowski said. “Progress is possible for those embracing reform.”
Ruszkowski, who took over as head of the Public Education Department from Hanna Skandera on June 20, is hopeful more districts will decide to take advantage of such programs.
In mid-August, he said, he will sit down with APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy for the first time as acting secretary of education.
“While I am optimistic about meeting with the educators, the superintendent and the team, the board has to chart a course that puts student learning and academics and college and career readiness front and center,” he said.
He said the first step would be for him to learn about APS’ new academic master plan, which outlines the district’s goals and how to reach them.
Ruszkowski also noted the dramatic decline in the opt-out movement, which was a force when PARCC was introduced in 2015. That year, 5,497 students refused to take the test and walkouts were staged across the state to protest the rigorous, Common Core-aligned exam.
The number of opt-outs dropped to 2,300 in 2016 and 1,235 in 2017.
But PARCC continues to be divisive, particularly the use of the test scores in calculating teacher proficiency and school grades. PED has said the approach holds teachers and districts accountable, but the state’s teachers unions claim it is unfair and produces inaccurate results.
Betty Patterson, National Education Association of New Mexico president, argued that standardized tests “based on a narrowly prescribed curriculum and linked to specific grade levels are not a good way to judge student or teacher success.”
Similarly, American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly said PARCC is not working for students, schools and educators.
“It is now 2017, and other than continued low scores, New Mexico doesn’t have much to show for its tens of millions of dollars wasted on the PARCC exam,” Ly said, citing the state’s payment to the PARCC test company, Pearson.