APS test results mirror state's – except for a few key areas - Albuquerque Journal

APS test results mirror state’s – except for a few key areas

Student move to their next class through a hallway at Valley High School in August. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Test results for students in Albuquerque Public Schools – the largest district in the state – more or less mirrored those measured for students across New Mexico last school year.

But there were a few key areas, including with some student groups identified in the Yazzie-Martinez consolidated lawsuit, where APS students lagged a bit behind.

Across all grade levels tested, APS students overall were roughly 36% proficient in language arts, about two percentage points higher than New Mexico overall, according to state Public Education Department data.

APS had the same overall proficiency level of 25% in math as the rest of the state.

But while some student groups identified in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit in APS generally hovered around statewide averages, others fared noticeably worse.

For example, the average test results for third through fifth grade Indigenous students and English learners in APS were generally in line with statewide averages for their respective groups – in both cases slightly higher in language arts, and between two and three percentage points lower in math.

APS students in the same grade levels with disabilities and who were economically disadvantaged, however, scored lower in both categories by margins of roughly two to four percentage points.

Across all grade levels, those who were economically disadvantaged represent the better part of 69% of APS students, according to end-of-year data, and almost 74% of students statewide.

A 2018 ruling in that case found that New Mexico was violating the rights of its students by failing to provide a uniform and sufficient education system to students with disabilities and those identified as Indigenous, economically disadvantaged and as English learners.

Overall, Indigenous, Hispanic and Black students fared the worst of any demographic groups in both math and language arts in APS, and the same was true across the state in every grade level tested, according to PED and APS data.

For example, APS Hispanic students were a little under 29% proficient in language arts, more or less on par with the statewide average for third through eighth graders, and were over 18% proficient in math, about three percentage points behind the statewide average.

Statewide, 63% of students overall are Hispanic. In APS, that number was closer to 66% at the end of last year.

While not the results that anybody wanted, Channell Segura, the new chief of schools for APS, said there was an upside to the data in that it provided a baseline that would help lay out a path forward for the district.

“I don’t know that anyone was excited about the data, I don’t think it was a surprise to anybody,” she told the Journal in an interview. “But I do believe that (in) Albuquerque Public Schools specifically … we were very much excited to receive this data to be able to inform our decisions.”

In 2019 – the last year that complete testing data was available – 31% of APS students overall were proficient in reading and 20% were proficient in math.

PED and APS officials last week stressed that comparisons between last school year’s test results – based on the Measures of Student Success and Achievement assessments – and those the state saw before the pandemic are not valid.

In part, that’s because the new ones are different tests. They also measure fewer grade levels, and some students take specialized tests. That said, the PED estimated when the new MSSA tests were originally announced in 2019 that there still would be some comparability with old data.

Segura said APS is working to close the gap between those who lag behind and the rest of their cohort in several ways, to include restarting work to weave equity into grading in schools that are interested in doing so, looking into providing 24/7 high-dosage tutoring to students and generally improving accessibility to opportunities like AP courses.

“(We’re) going through those things to identify how … we break down those barriers that could exist in some of the schools,” she said.

In a Sept. 1 news release, APS highlighted several initiatives the district has already set in motion, including providing professional development to principals that’s tailored to their community’s needs and significant raises for educators.

A district spokeswoman said that will hopefully help attract a diverse crowd of teachers. That, in turn, will help students who have historically lagged behind, because students thrive when their teachers reflect the communities they teach in, state education officials have said.

Statewide, Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus said last week, New Mexico is making gains in other, general areas that help improve student success, including by reducing the state’s number of teacher vacancies – which the PED has estimated could be as high as 1,000 – by 300.

Another initiative both Steinhaus and Segura highlighted was the state’s ongoing efforts to train kindergarten and elementary school teachers in structured literacy – described as learning to teach the “science of reading.”

In APS, Segura said that’ll take the form of LETRS training, which teaches the skills needed to master reading instruction and has been highly praised by state lawmakers.

“Our focus is that every student matters,” Segura said. “That is our commitment. … We are really trying to drill down to meet the needs of every student and to intervene early, so that we’re working with families, we’re working with the students, and looking at the whole student.”

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