Statewide, English proficiency is up 1.3 percentage points and math 2.5 percentage points, with every test posting gains except third-grade English, according to data released by the state Public Education Department on Thursday.
Of the 89 school districts in New Mexico, 57 improved in English and 77 in math.
But the big picture still shows a state struggling to pull itself out of 49th place in the country on educational attainment.
Only 19.9 percent of students met or exceeded expectations in math and 27.7 percent in English. Students with disabilities and English language learners fared particularly poorly, with less than 10 percent proficient in either subject.
“We established the baseline last year, and we’re on our way with good improvements,” she told the Journal. “We have never seen this kind of improvement across grade levels in our recent history. … We need to keep pushing for where we want to be next.”
Skandera also praised the high participation rate in the controversial test, which drew protests and walkouts in 2015, the first year it was administered.
Ninety-seven percent of New Mexico’s students in grades 3-11 – 217,000 kids – took PARCC in 2016, compared with 95 percent in 2015.
This year’s numbers again reveal widely different outcomes for students in different districts.
Las Cruces improved by about 3 percentage points on math and English, reaching 19.6 proficiency and 27.5 percent, respectively.
Skandera highlighted successes in Farmington and Gadsden, which she said have embraced reforms and tracked data to make instructional changes.
The two rural districts are performing better than most of the state and saw large gains. Farmington went up more than 8.5 percentage points in English to 36.3 percent proficiency.
“If you push to improve, the sky’s the limit,” Skandera said.
The state’s largest district had mixed results. Albuquerque Public Schools students scored slightly above the state average – 20.4 percent were proficient in math and 28.1 percent in English – but they fell 1 percentage point in English compared with 2015 and only saw a 1 percentage point improvement in math.
The worst decline for APS was third-grade English: 21.4 percent met reading standards this year, a 10-point drop over the past year. Statewide, about 24.1 percent were on target in third-grade English versus 24.8 percent in 2015.
Skandera attributed that decline to APS students dragging down the average. APS has about 80,000 students total.
“The results do show that both as a district and as a state we need to do more to help students achieve at a higher level,” APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy said in an emailed statement. “Proficiency rates below 50 percent are just not acceptable and we will be working with students, teachers and families to address deficiencies. We are committed to putting resources at schools and redesigning teaching and learning so that more students succeed.”
Neighboring Rio Rancho Public Schools continued to do better than the state as a whole: 29.2 percent of its students reached the benchmark in math and 38.3 percent in English. Like APS, however, the district slid backward in English, falling 4 percentage points.
Santa Fe dropped below the state average in both English and math, hitting 25.7 percent proficiency and 16.5 percent proficiency, respectively. Los Alamos again was a standout – over 50 percent of its students met or exceeded expectations on many tests.
American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly said the overall results prove that PARCC is not working for students.
“With the release of this year’s scores, Secretary Skandera is now championing minimal gains in PARCC scores,” she said in an emailed statement. “Despite small increases, the fact remains that across the board, New Mexico students are not proficient, according to PARCC.”
Eleven states administer PARCC, which stands for the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers. The computerized exam is designed to align with Common Core and raise standards.