Citing low participation rates in the SAT and standardized state tests, data available on math and reading proficiency among New Mexico public school students for the spring 2021 is not comparable to previous years and will not be released to the public, the state Public Education Department announced Monday.
“We don’t really know how confident to be about the little that we do know,” said the education department’s accountability director, Alexis Álvarez, during a virtual roundtable discussion Monday.
A news release from the department said the available data will be reported to the federal government but with this caveat: it’s “statistically unreliable.”
Overall, slightly more than 12 percent of the state’s eligible students took the Scholastic Aptitude Test — a standardized test the state commonly uses to measure writing and critical thinking skills among high school juniors — or participated in the Measures of Student Success and Achievement state summative test, which measures proficiency in math and reading for third- through eighth-graders.
According to data released by the state Monday, 16 of the state’s 89 school districts tested 90 percent or more of eligible students using the state test.
Many more, department officials said, tested none of their students. The state’s largest district, Albuquerque Public Schools, reportedly tested just 1 percent of eligible third- through eighth-graders.
Of those who did test, performance was “lower than typical years,” said to the education department.
Overall, roughly 10 percent of eligible middle and elementary schoolers took the spring state test and 25 percent of high school juniors statewide took the SAT.
Officials said the sliver of data available likely fails to represent the demographics of New Mexico’s students as a whole — particularly amid a year of remote learning in which education department estimates 40 percent of students lacked adequate internet access.
“We can’t rely on any trend analysis,” said Public Education Department Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment. “It’s been broken. It’s been interrupted.”
At the same time, education officials said assessment is critical to measuring progress on the “well-being” of students in subgroups state educators and policymakers are focusing on as part of the ongoing efforts to satisfy the ruling decision in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, which deemed New Mexico was not providing students with an adequate education as mandated by the state constitution.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, New Mexico has opted to waive mandates through the federal government on state tests, which are usually integral to receiving federal funding and making state policies on education.
Álvarez said Monday the state had not applied to waive state testing for spring of 2022.
While schools continue with some mandatory tests for specific student groups, the last round of complete proficiency data for third- through eighth-graders comes from the PARCC test, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ended at the beginning of her term in early 2019.
PED official are urging schools to test students this fall using optional interim assessments as part of “accelerated learning,” in which all students are taught at grade level standards regardless of their skill level.
The approach is featured heavily in the state’s guide to reopening for school districts following months of interrupted and online learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That data from the smaller interim assessments is typically used within school districts to measure student progress.
“These tests will be used only to provide educators with a broader baseline to determine where students stand after 18 months of pandemic-related disruptions so we can address any learning gaps and assure that all our kids are on track for academic and life success,” Public Education Secretary Designate Kurt Steinhaus said in a Monday news release.
Three percent of eligible students in Santa Fe Public Schools took part in state testing last spring. But the district did use a state-provided interim test last year to measure student progress through the start, middle and end of the school year, which aligns with the Measures of Student Success and Achievement state test.
In a recent interview, the district’s assessments director, Suchint Sarangarm, said schools will swap the third round of interim tests for the state test this year.
State assessments director Lynn Vasquez said during the Monday roundtable the education department will not be able to draw any generalization about what kids learned during the 2020-2021 school year.
“We can’t say general things about learning for all students in the state, because those ‘opportunity to learn’ conditions had varied,” she said. “So that’s one of the things you’ll see very different about us talking about reports this year.”