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New Mexico Education CHief Vows to Improve Scores; Universal Preschool Among Goals

Ohanian Note: Without knowing what "proficient" means, it's impossible to interpret the scores. If it means average, then the scores look good.

After acknowledging that poverty is high, the state superintendent says "We are not pleased with these scores." How about all the power people in New Mexico saying, "We are not pleased with this poverty!"

Principal Tracy Herrera counts 400 children on the Navajo Elementary School campus who are learning to speak English.

With numbers like that, it's little surprise the South Valley school's fourth-graders scored worst in the Albuquerque district in language arts, according to the most recent testing numbers.

Just 13 percent of fourth-graders at Navajo scored proficient or better in the language arts section of the Standards-Based Assessment, the state-mandated test given last spring to all fourth- and eighth-graders.

Scores released Thursday showed about half of New Mexico's fourth- and eighth-graders scored below proficient in math and language arts. The language barrier and poverty were common threads in the low scores, state Secretary for Education Veronica Garcia said.

"We are not pleased with these scores," she said. "We need to look at them as we would our own children's. We have to be relentless in our efforts to improve them."

In the Albuquerque Public Schools, 55.3 percent of fourth-graders and 50.9 percent of eighth-graders were proficient in math, according to the state tally.

In language arts, 48 percent of Albuquerque fourth-graders and 55.1 percent of eighth-graders were proficient.

Schools have until 2013-2014 to bring all children to 100 percent proficiency in language arts and math under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and state requirements. The scores reported Thursday will serve as the starting point, Garcia said.

In independent reporting, APS shows slightly higher averages for the district. The district excludes scores for 2,100 students, said Brian Kaumo, manager of APS accountability services.

The excluded scores were those for students with "significant language or special education status" who were given accommodations, such as a longer time period to take the test, Kaumo said.

He said accommodations are necessary to "level the playing field."

Kaumo said the district had followed precedent for statewide test score reporting. This morning, however, district officials were informed the state reporting was changed this time to include the scores for children with accommodations.

Children with special needs will be included from here on out to match federal standards, said Don Watson, the state Department of Education's assistant secretary for assessment and accountability.

On Thursday, Garcia said the test results show a need that goes far beyond any federal mandate.

"This is not just about being in compliance with No Child Left Behind," Garcia said. "It is a moral and economic issue. As a state, we cannot stand by and let even one child leave our public educational system with a substandard education."

State officials said efforts to improve student performance over the next 10 years will include universal preschool - voluntary classes in public schools to prepare children for kindergarten.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish said legislation must be passed to provide money for universal preschool. If the Legislature provides the money, the phase-in of public preschools will start in impoverished neighborhoods, she said.

"We need to invest in our children at a younger age," Denish said. "We have to roll up our sleeves and narrow the achievement gap."

Preschool makes a big difference in student achievement, based on Navajo's track record with 4-year-olds, Principal Herrera said.

Navajo, at 2936 Hughes Road S.W., has served 30 preschoolers per year since 1984, and they have done "very, very well in school," she said.

"It would be wonderful," she said, to serve all preschoolers. She estimated there would be 80 Navajo students each year who would enroll if preschool were expanded.

"Children are coming to us not ready for kindergarten. This puts them behind," she said.

In addition to preschool, Herrera said new instructional programs are helping her students.

Navajo's fourth-graders did better in math - 25 percent at or above proficiency. That's still the lowest in the district but far better than the language arts scores.

Herrera said she knows the reason for the difference. The school is using MathLand, a new math program the staff picked "because it wasn't language dependent," she said. "Students could figure out problems without English proficiency."

In other words, they didn't have to be good readers of English to do the math.

At Lavaland Elementary on the West Side at 501 57th St. N.W., preschool has been offered to 4-year-olds for seven years. Principal Valerie Webb-Jaramillo said it exposes children from poor Spanish-speaking families to books and life experiences.

"It gives our kids a head start," she said. Like Navajo, Lavaland's test scores were among the lowest in the district, with 20 percent proficient in language arts and 27 proficient in math.

"They are not where we want to be," she said. "But we're still trying."

At Kit Carson Elementary in the South Valley at 1921 Byron Ave. S.W., the hard work of teachers paid off in high test scores, Principal Eva Vigil said.

Teachers offer after-school tutoring that has attracted 150 students this year, up from 100 last year. And teachers adjust their lessons based on data, Vigil said.

Kit Carson's scores of 58 percent proficient in language arts and 63 proficient in math were higher than the district averages, despite poverty and language barriers.

"Our kids struggle," Vigil said, "but we have to give them as much as we can. There's a lot of dedication on everybody's part."


New Mexico:

Fourth-grade math, proficient or better: 53 percent

Fourth-grade language arts, proficient or better: 45 percent

Eighth-grade math, proficient or better: 46 percent

Eighth-grade language arts, proficient or better: 51 percent


Fourth-grade math, proficient or better: 55.3 percent

Fourth-grade language arts, proficient or better: 48.0 percent

Eighth-grade math, proficient or better: 50.9 percent

Eighth-grade language arts, proficient or better: 55.1 percent

— Susie Gran
Albuquerque Journal


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