'These results don't pass muster' - Albuquerque Journal

‘These results don’t pass muster’

Students make their way to their classrooms on the first day of school at Valley High School earlier this month. Test results in APS last school year mirrored those measured across the state, with a little over a third of students testing proficient in language arts and a quarter testing proficient in math. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Just over a third of New Mexico students taking part in annual statewide assessments are proficient in language arts and only a quarter in math, according to test results released by the Public Education Department.

The results, released Thursday afternoon, set a new baseline for New Mexico third- through eighth-graders and juniors.

They are the first relatively complete results to be released after New Mexico switched to the Measures of Student Success and Achievement test. The state wasn’t able to collect complete results in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 31% of kindergarten through second-graders were proficient in early literacy, and 33% of fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders were proficient in science.

“From a high-performance lens, these results don’t pass muster, and we don’t pretend that they do,” said Matthew Goodlaw, the PED’s director of research, evaluation and accountability. “We are looking at the data with clear and eager eyes … and we’ll work with our local school systems to identify and target schools and specific supports throughout the state.”

Nearly 476,000 end-of-year assessments were administered across the state and roughly 318,000 students enrolled in New Mexico schools last year, according to PED data.

While PED hasn’t completely processed participation rates across the state, early reports indicate New Mexico is just shy of the federal requirement of 95% participation in assessments for each subgroup of students, Goodlaw said.

In 2019, which was the most recent year for which complete results were available, nearly 33% of students using a transition test were proficient in English and a little over 20% were proficient in math.

PED officials stressed that comparisons between previous exams and the current assessments are not valid, in part because they’re different tests. The PARCC exams also tested more grade levels, they noted in their presentation.

When the new MSSA tests were originally announced in 2019, the PED said it didn’t expect that completely new proficiency levels would need to be established, and that there still would be some comparability with old data.

This year, there were significant gaps in achievement among several subgroups of students, such as those identified in the Yazzie-Martinez consolidated lawsuit – students with disabilities and those who are Indigenous, English learners and economically disadvantaged.

For example, 24% of third-graders eligible for free and reduced lunch were proficient in language arts, and about 16% were proficient in math. By the fifth grade, proficiency numbers rose to 28% and 23%, respectively.

Overall, students eligible for free and reduced lunches – a metric commonly used by officials to indicate economic disadvantages – represent almost 74% of New Mexico students, according to PED data.

Desks are spaced apart ahead of planned in-person learning at an elementary school on March 19, 2021, in Philadelphia. Pandemic school disruptions resulted in the largest drop in reading achievement in 30 years, according to newly released national test scores on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. The data is from 9-year-olds who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2020 and 2022. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest district, more or less mirrored overall statewide assessment results, with 36% of tested students found to be proficient in language arts and 25% proficient in math, according to PED data.

In a news release, APS officials argued that the results demonstrate the “heavy impacts of the pandemic,” and said that it will take time for progress to happen.

“The test results show that our students aren’t where they need to be,” Superintendent Scott Elder said in the release. “We will use this information to set new baselines for student success and zero in on the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic to guarantee students get the support they need to catch up and excel.”

Thursday’s release of results comes in time for the PED’s loose deadline of some time in late August or early September.

Part of the reason for the delay was that the state needed to set proficiency levels for the test, which are relatively new. Next year, reports should be available about 10 days after testing windows close in mid to late May, the PED has said.

Not all districts are required to administer the same interim tests, but everyone takes end-of-year MSSA assessments. That said, not everyone takes the same tests with the new system – for example, English learners take an additional, specialized test.

Many were quick to criticize the state’s progress in turning around student success and achievement, among them state lawmakers and groups.

“New Mexico students deserve more. We have known this for a long time and today’s data releases … confirm it,” NewMexicoKidsCAN Executive Director Amanda Aragon said in a news release. “The reality is that we are failing to prepare the majority of our students with the skills we know they need to succeed.”

But Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus said he saw the baseline results as a “great opportunity” for New Mexico going forward.

“I am very confident that New Mexico, as a state … we are on a good path. We are moving forward. We’re in a good place,” Steinhaus said. “I’m looking forward to us coming back to you all a year from now (and) showing some real significant growth in student achievement.”

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