Santa Fe Public Schools’ test scores inching along

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García says slow progress is still progress.

The district received its math and reading proficiency scores Friday from the state Public Education Department, and though the numbers were largely unspectacular, García said she was encouraged by a small increase in reading and avoiding a drop in math.

During García’s current tenure in Santa Fe (she also served as superintendent from 1999 to 2002) reading proficiency has increased from 28 percent during her first year in 2016-17, to 31 percent in 2018-19. Math proficiency is up by 1 percentage point in that same period, from 17 to 18 percent.

From 2017-18 to 2018-19, district proficiency rates increased by 2 percentage points in reading and stayed the same in math.

“We have set a strong foundation in three years. At the end of year four, you’re going to even better results. I’m convinced,” said García, who received a contract extension in June after a 4-1 vote by the Santa Fe Board of Education. “The steady, incremental growth speaks for itself.”

Still, Santa Fe’s proficiency rates were below statewide totals.

Results released Friday show reading proficiency rates across the state have consistently increased over the past three school years — rising from 28.6 percent of students in 2016-17 to 32.7 percent last school year. Math proficiency scores have been steadier, increasing from 19.7 to 20.3 percent of students during that same time period, though they dropped from 21.6 percent in 2017-18.

In a news release, the district hailed its 11th grade reading scores, which have improved by 14 percent over the past two school years.

“The most important factor for me is the three-year trend. Are we moving in the right direction and making consistent gains?” school board President Kate Noble said. “I think it is pretty clear that Veronica is doing good work.”

Board member Steven Carrillo, who cast the dissenting vote against extending García’s contract last month, pointed to the fact the district lags behind state averages in both reading and math proficiency.

“These numbers indicate that the growth isn’t nearly what it should be. At this rate, I will be dead and buried long before we reach acceptable levels,” Carrillo said. “I would like to hear from the superintendent about what specific measures are being taken to have a more substantive turnaround.”

Heading into the upcoming school year, districts will analyze the proficiency data to fine-tune each classroom’s curriculum and lesson plans. In Santa Fe, García hired Suchint Sarangarm, who has spent nearly 30 years analyzing public school assessments in New Mexico, as its chief assessment officer, tasked with making proficiency data useful.

“We will have very actionable data for each classroom teacher to help them better understand where their kids are at and what standards need greater focus,” García said. “This is really going to improve instruction for our kids. I expect accelerated growth next year thanks to new tools.”

In 2018-19, students took a new test, called the New Mexico Standards Based Transition Assessment of Math and English Language Arts, which administrators said is similar in content to the former PARCC exams but about 30 percent shorter. The Public Education Department is in the process of replacing the PARCC exam.

In Santa Fe, 10 schools did better than the state average in reading proficiency, while 11 were ahead of the state average in math. Santa Fe High improved by 9 percentage points in reading proficiency to 36 percent, while its math scores grew by 2 percentage points to 9.3 percent. Compared to 2017-18, Capital High increased its math proficiency rate by 0.1 percent to 30.4 percent while its math scores decreased by 0.2 percent to 5.3 percent.

Amy Biehl and El Dorado Community Schools, as well as Piñon Elementary, scored better than the average state proficiency rate and grew at a faster rate than the state’s average growth rate in both reading and math. El Camino Real, which has a bilingual curriculum, had the lowest reading proficiency score in the district at 8.6 percent, while district data shows that no students at Early College Opportunities high school scored proficient in math.

Piñon Principal Janis Devoti said her students benefit from 90 minutes of literacy class each day, which is a districtwide policy for K-8 schools, and that students generally need to be proficient in reading by second grade in order to succeed in learning other subjects. Devoti also said her staff is constantly mining data so that test scores should not be a surprise.

“We’re collecting data on our students every week,” Devoti said. “So when we get test scores, the first thing we do is correlate the score to what we already knew about the student.”

At Piñon in 2018-19, reading scores improved by 5.2 percentage points to reach 50.5 percent proficiency while math scores improved by 4.4 percentage points to 43 percent. While Devoti said she is happy with improvement, there is clearly room for more.

“I’m pleased our scores are going up, but we will not feel like we are done until we have 100 percent kids proficient,” Devoti said. “We know that we still have 50 percent of our kids to move. That’s our barometer for success.”