SANTA FE — New Mexico students will take the SAT in spring 2022 as the state phases in a pandemic-delayed testing requirement aimed at increasing participation that varies widely by racial and ethnic groups.
Those disparities were stark this spring as high school students were offered the test but didn’t have to take it. There were deep differences in high school juniors' participation according to racial and ethnic groups, with particularly low tallies among Indigenous students, data released by New Mexico’s education department show.
The state had planned to require high school juniors to take the English and Math exams this spring, replacing previous statewide assessments. Around a dozen states including Ohio and New Jersey require students to take the SAT or list it as one of the options to fulfill federal requirements for standardized testing.
But the pandemic made it harder for students nationwide to take the SAT. Logistical complications from the virus spurred New Mexico to get a waiver from federal testing requirements.
Exactly 25% of eligible high school juniors took the test this spring in New Mexico, according to data released by the state's Public Education Department this week.
The rate was far lower for Indigenous students, with only 11% of high school juniors in that group taking the test.
In Cuba, on the eastern edge of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico, around two-thirds of high school students have roots with the tribe. Eight students took the SAT last spring, down from 60 in a typical year, said Anna Brown, a guidance counselor at Cuba High School. Three were Navajo and took the test to qualify for the Chief Manuelito Scholarship run by the Navajo Nation.
“There were a bunch of kids that signed up for it initially,” said Brown, who encourages students to take the SAT because the state pays for it and it's often accepted interchangeably with the competing ACT. “Not that many kids actually showed up" and wanted to take the risk, she said.
An increasing number of universities no longer require the SAT for admission, but state officials and local guidance counselors still encourage students to take it.
“If SAT weren’t the state-designated assessment for high school, some students might never realize their potential for college placement. It also allows students access to scholarship opportunities who otherwise might not be able to afford tuition,” said Lynn Vasquez, Learning Management System director at the education department.
The SAT is now free each spring for New Mexico juniors. If students want to take it more than once, it can cost as much as $100 with fees, or as cheap as $6 in districts like Cuba in the fall where most or all of the students come from low-income families and are eligible for free lunch programs, Brown said.
“It’s like a gift," Brown said, noting that students can take the free test as juniors and then improve their scores as seniors.
The pandemic put those gifts out of reach for many, particularly in rural areas.
New Mexico has a large Indigenous population that accounts for one in ten students in grades K-12. Many live on tribal lands, which were more likely to implement strict lockdowns. Local officials were less likely to be able to offer internet access and remote learning, despite extraordinary efforts to do so. Native American residents are more likely to share a home with relatives, and those relatives are more likely to have underlying health conditions.
Indigenous high school students in Cuba were extra careful to avoid virus risk, Brown said. Some of her students who missed out on the SAT in the spring plan to take it this fall.
Indigenous students participated at the lowest rate of any group second only to foster children, only 10% of whom took the test, according to the spring education department data. Participation rates were at 15% or lower for students with disabilities, English language learners, and homeless students.
That’s compared to 50% of Asian students, 38% of white students, 25% of Black students, and 23% of Hispanic students who took the test.
Of New Mexico students who took the test this spring, 57% scored at or above the benchmark in the SAT’s composite English and math tests. That’s down compared to around 70% in 2019.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.