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Education quality report ranks NM 49th in the nation

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico students have shown achievement gains in math, reading and graduation rates since 2003, but the state still ranks near the bottom nationally on quality of education measures, a new report shows.

New Mexico ranked 49th in the U.S. – ahead of only Nevada and Mississippi – in Quality Counts 2016, an annual report issued by the Education Week Research Center. The state scored an overall grade of D, which is unchanged from last year, when the state also ranked 49th.

Fourth- and eighth-grade students scored among the lowest math and reading test scores in the nation in 2015, even though student scores showed marked improvement over the last 12 years, the report found.

“When we look at reading and math scores, we see that New Mexico is near the bottom on current performance,” said Sterling Lloyd, senior research associate at the Education Week Research Center. “But when we look at achievement gains, New Mexico is doing fairly well over time.”

Education Week is a national newspaper based in Bethesda, Md., that covers K-12 education. It also publishes several annual reports, including Quality Counts.

New Mexico ranked 50th among U.S. states and the District of Columbia on the National Assessment of Educational Progress fourth-grade math test. But those scores improved 8.6 percent from 2003 to 2015.

New Mexico’s high school graduation rate of 74 percent in 2012 ranked 45th in the U.S. But the high school graduation rate is up from 67.4 percent in 2003.

New Mexico “has made some solid gains from 2003 to 2015,” Lloyd said. “That’s something that can be considered encouraging for parents and educators and policymakers in the state.”

New Mexico also does a good job of distributing limited education funding equitably among school districts.

New Mexico ranked 36th in the U.S. on per-pupil spending, with an average of $9,767 spent per student in 2013. It ranked No. 3 on an index that measures the equitable distribution of funding per pupil.

Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Public Education Department, said the report shows the need for a third-grade retention proposal supported by Gov. Susana Martinez.

The report “punctuates the need for meaningful reforms, and that includes ending the failed practice of social promotion that passes our kids onto the next grade even when they cannot read,” McEntyre said in a written statement.

Martinez has called for the social promotion measure since she took office in 2011. It would require most third-graders who cannot read adequately to repeat the grade level. The measure died in a Senate committee in 2015.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, has pre-filed a similar bill for legislators to consider in the session that begins Jan. 19.

Many of the criteria used in the Quality Counts study play on New Mexico’s weaknesses as a poor state.

For example, New Mexico ranked 50th in family income, with only 45 percent of children from families with incomes that exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty index.

Family income is one of 13 factors in the report’s “chance-for-success index,” which measures a wide variety of factors that affect education. New Mexico ranked 50th in the report’s chance-for-success index.

The report notes that only 38 percent of New Mexico children have at least one parent with a college degree, 69 percent have a parent who works full time and 81 percent have parents who are fluent in English. All those factors put New Mexico near the bottom nationally.

“Poverty has considerable influence on student achievement,” Lloyd said. “The report tries to provide a holistic view of education. Students are impacted by what goes on outside the schoolhouse doors.”

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