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Editorial: 2013 SBA scores show targeted reform delivers

If there was any question of whether New Mexico’s students – including minority students from poor families – could rise to meet higher expectations, the 2013 Standards-Based Assessment answers it.

And if there was any question of whether state-level education reform and spending – targeted to address specific deficiencies – could do a better job improving student performance than more millions funneled through a statewide formula to random local programs, the 2013 SBA answers that, as well.

Because the shining stars of the state’s overall flat 2013 SBA results are third-grade and 11th-grade reading scores. Third grade has been targeted by the Gov. Susana Martinez administration as the point all New Mexico children should be able to read at grade level or be held back only after intense K-3 intervention fails – though the Legislature has refused to codify it in statute. For 11th-graders, the SBA now doubles as students’ graduation exam, and the cut score was raised in 2011.

Rather than discourage students, parents and teachers, the SBA scores released last week show statewide third-grade reading proficiency rose from 52.3 percent to 55.2 percent; statewide 11th-grade reading proficiency jumped from 45.6 percent to 55.5 percent, and 11-grade math proficiency rose from 39.2 percent to 42 percent. And the biggest gains were delivered by students who are African-American, Hispanic, Native American, English-language learners or qualify for free and reduced lunch.

So much for poor children of color can’t be expected to achieve.

State education chief Hanna Skandera says “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.’ ”

And it is past time to deliver for the grades in between – reading scores in fourth- through seventh-grades dropped statewide, with only fourth-grade breaking the 50 percent proficient mark. Martinez says those results demonstrate the need for early reading intervention with third-grade retention as a last resort, as many of those older students were likely advanced without the necessary skill sets. It also demonstrates that wasting years on political dithering and gamesmanship has real casualties and consequences.

As for the argument that third- and 11th-grade scores improved because more resources were focused there – such as the “New Mexico Reads to Lead” grants for improving reading in early grades – it’s valid. And it justifies Skandera’s plan of targeted funding that has accountability attached.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.