New Mexico students score lower on PARCC tests

Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — 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, according to test results released Friday.

The results were no surprise. State Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera had warned that scores would be lower since the new standardized tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, raised the bar for students.

This year also marked the first time students in New Mexico and 10 other states had taken the PARCC assessments, which are designed to show how well schools helped students meet Common Core standards.

Defending the state’s decision to adopt the controversial tests, Skandera said 50 percent of New Mexico’s high school graduates need remedial courses when they get to college and the state is spending more than $20 million a year to help them catch up.

“Whether we’re talking to our colleges or to employers who are getting our students coming straight out of high school, we’re seeing that our kids aren’t ready,” she said. “Let’s get honest about where we are, and when we know where we are, we can do something about it.”

Skandera said the tests establish a new baseline and she expects to see improvements in the coming years now that students and teachers know what to expect.

But critics say few conclusions can be drawn from the results. They described the tests as unproven and said there’s no way to compare this year’s results to previous years.

“We do not believe PARCC test results should be used for any high-stakes decisions regarding teacher evaluation or pay or for the students to assess progress,” said Charles Goodmacher with the National Education Association New Mexico.

Nearly 208,000 New Mexico students took the tests. Results for students in grades 3-8 will be released later this month and individual scores are expected in early November.

Those high school students who scored at level 4 or 5 are considered by PARCC to be on track to graduate with the necessary skills. While the state transitions to the PARCC tests, officials are accepting level 3 — defined as approaching expectations — as a passing score but students will eventually be required to meet the higher levels.

The results show more than 44 percent of juniors met or exceeded English and language arts expectations while less than 27 percent of freshman scored at the same level.

State education officials acknowledged the low scores but said improvement among the grade levels shows the gap is closing.

“We’re asking how they’re finishing and they’re finishing stronger so that’s huge,” Skandera said. “We’re showing improvements but we have a long way to go.”

The math results are broken down by course and don’t include those students taking higher level courses such as calculus and trigonometry. More than 82 percent of students failed to meet expectations on first-level algebra tests and even fewer met geometry standards.

The tests sparked intense opposition from teachers, parents and students earlier this year who said testing requirements took away from classroom instruction and put undue pressure on kids. Others have argued that the standards and the related tests are part of a federal effort to nationalize education.

Hundreds of high school students in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and elsewhere walked out of schools and protested when testing first began in early March. There were similar walkouts in other states that participate in the PARCC consortium.