The New Mexico True Summer Reading Challenge continues through Aug. 1.
More info: www.readingchallenge.ped.state.nm.us.
FARMINGTON — Gov. Susana Martinez visited Farmington on Friday to promote the state's summer reading program and encourage students to avoid the "summer slide," a summertime lapse in reading that can erase some of the gains made during the school year.
Martinez participated in a scavenger hunt with area school children at the Farmington Public Library and urged them to push themselves to read more. She also took time to plug the New Mexico True Summer Reading Challenge.
"Can you make me a promise to register for the challenge? Pinky promise?" she asked the students, ages 8 to 12, who delighted in showing Martinez how well they knew their way around the building. "We have to have all of you reading this summer."
On Thursday, Martinez announced the 2013 A-F grade report for the state's 839 elementary, middle and high schools. More than 70 percent of schools maintained or improved overall, with the highest gains at the high school level, buffeted by improved reading proficiency, graduation rates and participation in college-readiness programs.
Schools with slipping grades were primarily at the elementary level, with fourth, fifth and sixth graders' proficiency scores dipping.
"The grade report shows some improvement in reading proficiency at the critical third-grade level, but, clearly, more investment needs to be made," Martinez said. "We can't wait. If we do, we lose a whole class of kids at a critical age."
Martinez introduced the grading system in 2011 to track students' achievement and growth. She sees the new system as a formula for assessment and greater accountability in education. The letter grades are part of legislation that replaced Adequate Yearly Progress reports that failed to account for gains students made in academic achievement.
Under the prior system, all but three of the state's schools would be deemed as not passing.
"With all but three failing, and no data to help us determine what needs improvement, what would we be saying to our kids?"
Last year, the U.S. Department of Education gave the state a waiver from the AYP system, recognizing the A-F rating system as a more rigorous measure of student progress.
Martinez is hoping the state's reading program, which offers prizes like trips to Disney World in Florida as rewards, will pay dividends when the school year starts in August.
Ashton Lesser, 10, was one of dozens of children participating in the Farmington Public Library's summer reading program, called Dig into Reading, on Friday. A devoted Stephanie Meyer fan, Lesser said she was not aware of the state's reading challenge before Martinez' visit.
"I've got to make it through 15 books for the library," said Lesser, who attends McKinley Elementary School in Farmington. "I've been busy doing all kinds of stuff this summer, but I try to read every day."
Lesser has found a steady diet of Meyer's "Twilight" series -- her latest obsession since finishing the Harry Potter series a few years ago -- rewarding.
Martinez hopes more children like Lesser will participate in reading programs, especially during the summer months when statistics show student reading rates drop significantly.
"Do well in school," Martinez told the children after the scavenger hunt ended. "I expect great things from you."