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New Mexico education scores rank near bottom

New Mexico students show little improvement in proficiency since 1998
New Mexico ranks near last in national education scores in 2022. (Courtesy of The National Report Card)

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2022, New Mexico students tested at or near the bottom nationally. When using the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, only 19% of New Mexico fourth grade students tested at or above proficiency in math, with 21% proficient in reading.

Scores showed that fourth and eighth graders overall lost ground in both math and reading. Education officials largely point to the pandemic as the reason behind the setbacks.

In 2022, Colorado students fared comparatively well, scoring 236.17 in math, down from 241.87 in 2019, but still 1.31 above the national average of 235 out of a possible 500.

Colorado fourth grade students scored 222.85 in 2022, down from 224.86 in 2019, but still slightly higher than the national average.

In 2022 according to The Nation’s Report Card overview for Colorado, elementary and secondary students rank from 16 to 17 nationally in math and from fifth to sixth in reading nationally. Three elementary schools in Durango that exceeded expectations in testing scores recently received the Governor’s Award for performance.

While standardized test scores have declined nationally since the pandemic, in New Mexico scores have consistently hovered at or near the bottom.

A test is considered standardized when all of the students taking the test have to respond to the same set of selected questions. Comparisons of average scores allow groups of students to be ranked. Tests are generally true-false or multiple choice, with some short-answer questions for certain subjects.

Standardized testing in public schools became compulsory with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This act was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson, “… in the hopes of creating a more equal education for all students in the United States.”

About 45 years later, George W. Bush replaced ESEA with No Child Left Behind, which proved controversial because schools were expected to turn in scores quickly to determine whether gaps in education were being closed. Under NCLB, schools with poor performance could receive sanctions such as state takeover or reduced funding.

Before the NCLB act, page-and-pencil-based testing was the norm, but given the need for speed and advancements in technical accessibility, computer-based testing gained popularity.

Barack Obama replaced NCLB with the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. ESSA required quick test results that were shared with educators so they can develop an effective learning plan. While these acts work toward creating a more equal educational system, they forced schools to come up with faster methods of test-taking and score reporting without fully analyzing the benefits or challenges that surround computer-based testing.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the “oldest nationally representative and continuing assessment” and is mandated by Congress. It is designed to monitor changes in educational achievements of students populations and serves as a national “report card” for districts. The program assesses students in grades four, eight and 12 in reading, math and sciences at various intervals.

From its inception, NAEP has been controversial with parents, teachers, administrators and students. Opponents argue that the tests only determine which students are good at taking tests and offer no meaningful measure of progress. Further, critics point out the tests have not improved academic performance, asserting the tests do not fully address individual issues that might affect scores, such as primary language or class-related barriers. Critics also argue the tests are not predictors of future success.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found a strong correlation between family income and GPA, class rank and test scores. Generally, the higher the family income, the higher students tested.

Advocates for opting out of testing argue that standardized testing policies reinforce the inequities they attempted to fix in the first place. They further argue that standardized testing stifles creativity, operates on a one-size-fits-all assumption and decreases curriculum effectiveness when testing becomes the main focus.

Proponents say the tests allow for accountability for schools and teachers, and the tests afford the ability to measure and compare student performance across school systems and geographic areas.

Henry L. Roediger, et al. argue that benefits of standardized testing include teaching students to better organize knowledge, encourages studying, improves retention and identifies gaps in knowledge. However, they do point out that an over-focus on preparing for testing can take away from classroom instruction and lead to rote learning rather than full comprehension.