Most N.M. students fail to meet benchmarks

Russell Contreras
The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — Only around a quarter of New Mexico students in grade 3 to 8 met proficiency or better benchmarks for reading and writing on new standardized tests, and less than 10 percent of the state’s eighth-graders met expectations or better when it came to math, according to test results released Friday.

The low scores for exams given in spring weren’t a shock to state officials who had been warning for months that the public should expected such numbers. That’s because the more rigorous exam was a more “honest” assessment of what students are learning compared to pass state tests, Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said.

“We raised standards (because) our diploma was not meaningful,” Skandera said. “There was an honesty gap between what we were saying and what was happening in our schools.”

Those lack of strong standards were forcing many New Mexico high school graduates to take remedial classes in colleges, which is why the new test was introduced last years to raise standards, she said.

This also marked the first time students in New Mexico and 10 other states had taken the assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

The tests are designed to show how well schools helped students meet Common Core standards — a move that generated vocal opposition from some students, teachers and parents.

According to numbers released Friday, around 25 percent of third-graders met expectation or exceeded them both on the writing and reading portion of the exam and in math.

The report also show that only 22.8 percent of eighth-graders were proficient or better in English language arts and only 9.1 percent were proficient in math. However, state officials pointed out that a nearly a fourth of eighth-graders tested took the Algebra I, II and Geometry assessment for higher math classes.

Public Education officials believe if those same eighth-graders had taken the lower-level math exam the state proficiency or better rate would have been closer to 20 percent.

Skandera said the numbers were needed to help educators and parents develop plans to get expectations up for students. In other states, like Kentucky, that strategy has worked and students have returned to pre-PARCC-style scores within a few years, she said.

The number come after the state released PARCC scores for high school students earlier this month.

Those results showed that more than half of New Mexico high school juniors failed to meet college and career readiness benchmarks for reading and writing and a vast majority of students fell short when it came to proficiency in math.

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly said the results released Friday was further evidence that state policy-makers shouldn’t rely on PARCC scores to make decisions on student retention and educator licensure.