New Mexico students score higher on reading, math tests

July 12, 2018
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Gov. Susana Martinez talks about New Mexico students' rising test scores during an event at North Valley Academy in Los Ranchos, N.M., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Martinez said the credit for improvement in reading and math seen over the last few years goes to teachers and school leaders. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Less than a third of all New Mexico students are proficient when it comes to reading and math. But state education officials said Thursday the latest test scores show thousands more students performed better on their annual assessments.

The Public Education Department results show more than 31 percent of students tested this spring are proficient or better in reading and more than 21 percent are proficient or better in math.

Those are the highest percentages in the four years that students have been taking the standardized assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Gov. Susana Martinez celebrated by dancing with a group of students at North Valley Academy in Los Ranchos. “That’s all at the end of the day that really counts and really, really matters — that you all are getting smarter and smarter every single day and we’re giving you everything we can to make sure of that,” she said.

Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said the improvements are a decade in the making as the state first adopted higher reading and math standards under the previous administration. The bar was raised again when Martinez’s administration began administering the annual assessments.

Martinez is ending her second and final term at the end of the year, and there has been much talk by gubernatorial candidates about changes they would make to the state’s education system.

Education has been a sore point for decades as annual rankings consistently put the state near the bottom.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but the work is about improving instruction,” Ruszkowski said. “The work is not lowering the bar and creating chaos and inconsistency. The work is not spending years and tens of millions of dollars to develop a bunch of new stuff so that we can swap out one thermometer for another.”

During visits to school districts and meetings with teachers, Ruszkowski said parents and teachers say they want stability and consistency.

“I think the path forward for New Mexico over the next decade is to continue to increase the rigor, continue to increase the expectations,” he said.

The test scores show every grade level is up in reading and almost every grade level is up in math. Overall, reading scores improved by nearly 5 percentage points since 2015, and math was up more than 4 percentage points.

Education officials said Native American students have shown the most progress and Hispanic students also recorded improvements.

Farmington, Gallup and Hobbs are among the largest districts to see gains. Schools in Gallup, for example, have the lowest rate of reading proficiency at 25.8 percent. But they have marked double-digit gains over four years and had the highest year-over-year growth among large districts for 2018.

Farmington leads the large districts with more than 42 percent of students proficient in reading and more than a quarter proficient in math.

“We’re very excited about the work that’s going on and the commitment by our teachers and leaders but more importantly by the kids themselves,” Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt said.

More than 26 percent of students in the Gadsden district in southern New Mexico are also proficient in math.

Districts in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Clovis and Deming are also starting to show progress. In Albuquerque, test scores show improvements in proficiency over the last year at all grade levels except for dips in math among 10th- and 11th-graders.

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