Updated assessment data from Santa Fe Public Schools reveals that while students have made some improvements in reading scores on standardized tests this year, they continue to struggle with mathematics.

“This is statewide,” Deputy Superintendent Vanessa Romero said during a Board of Education meeting Thursday evening. “I think what we need to continue to focus on is, how does a kid attack a multistep word problem? It’s the application piece of math we really need to focus on.”

Reading scores from short-cycle tests conducted in the middle of the 2020-21 school year showed 45 percent of those who took the tests in grades 3 through 8 were proficient in reading. By the end of that school year, 51 percent of students tested proficient.

Data from the 2021-22 school year shows 49 percent of students in those grades demonstrated proficiency at mid-year.

In both school years, the school district utilized a new short-cycle test, known as iMSSA, which yielded scores significantly higher than end-of-year scores from the former state test, known as PARCC.

During the 2018-19 school year, while using the PARCC test, just 28 percent of students demonstrated reading proficiency. In 2019, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham overhauled the state’s standardized testing system, but pandemic-era interruptions largely put a halt to assessments altogether as schools statewide battled to find a way to conduct lessons online.

For the first time since 2019, students across the state are being required to take part in end-of-year standardized testing that measures math and reading skills.

Though students have shown better reading results during the pandemic, math proficiency in the district and statewide has slipped. In the middle of the 2020-21 school year, 13 percent in Santa Fe showed proficiency, a number that grew to 18 percent by the end of the year.

In the current school year, just 12 percent have tested as proficient during mid-year assessments.

In 2018-19, the PARCC assessment showed 20 percent of students in the district demonstrated proficiency in math at the end of the school year.

Romero said administrators believe the district could reach 20 percent proficiency at the end of this school year.

The troubling percentages of students demonstrating proficiency during the current school year are mostly in line with results across the state.

Numbers don’t vary much between grades — though fourth graders tested least proficient in math at just 9 percent in the district and statewide, while middle schoolers in sixth through eighth grades did not get above 12 percent proficiency in either the state or district.

However, the numbers do show improvement from the beginning of the school year, when averages at the state and district level showed just 6 percent of students demonstrated proficiency.

As school districts across the state contemplate how to dig out of the pandemic, officials in Santa Fe are pinning hopes for improvement to a new math curriculum purchased during the 2020-21 school year; a summer math camp for high schools; and a transition to standards-based grading, which they said could help improve outcomes following long periods of remote learning.

About 13 schools in Santa Fe will be fully implementing the new grading system next school year, Romero said.

“Ultimately, our goal is to improve student outcomes,” Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez told the board.

The updated assessment results were a portion of the Santa Fe school board’s first in-person regular meeting in about two years. Board vice president Rudy Garcia was absent.

Chavez noted during the meeting the district’s COVID-19 positivity rate had fallen to 1 percent in recent weeks.

“It’s a great sign. When it was high, my phone would not stop as I was notified of every positive case,” he said. “It looks very promising.”

Board President Kate Noble called on Chavez to consider crafting a “somewhat comprehensive” plan to address social and emotional issues students face, including bullying.

“We’re all a bit feral after two years in a pandemic,” she said.

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