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New Mexico students score higher on reading, math tests

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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Less than a third of all New Mexico students are proficient when it comes to reading and math. But state education officials said Thursday that the latest test scores show efforts to raise the bar and support teachers are paying off as thousands more students performed better on their annual assessments.

The new numbers released by the Public Education Department show more than 31 percent of students tested this spring are proficient or better in reading and more than 21 percent are proficient or better in math.

That marked jumps of around 2 percentage points from the previous year, and the gains are even more notable than in 2015, when students first began taking the standardized assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said the improvements shown by New Mexico students are a decade in the making as the state first adopted higher reading and math standards under the previous administration. The bar was raised again when Gov. Susana Martinez's administration began administering the annual assessments.

Martinez will finish her second and final term at the end of the year, and there has been much talk by gubernatorial candidates about what changes they would make to the state's education system.

Education has been a sore point in New Mexico for decades as annual rankings consistently put the state near the bottom. But Ruszkowski pointed to the gains made by students since 2015.

"We still have a lot of work to do, but the work is about improving instruction," he said. "The work is not lowering the bar and creating chaos and inconsistency. The work is not spending years and tens of millions of dollars to develop a bunch of new stuff so that we can swap out one thermometer for another."

During visits to dozens of school districts around the state and meetings with teachers along the way, Ruszkowski said he hears from parents and teachers who want stability and consistency when it comes to measuring student success.

"I think the path forward for New Mexico over the next decade is to continue to increase the rigor, continue to increase the expectations," he said. "Every time we've increased rigor, every time we've increased expectations, our kids and families have risen to the challenge."

According to the latest test scores, every grade level is up in reading and almost every grade level is up in math.

Overall, reading scores improved by more than 4 percentage points since 2015, and math was up nearly 5 percentage points for the same period.

Education officials said Native American students have shown the most academic progress statewide over the past four years and Hispanic students in districts that primarily serve low-income families also have recorded improvements.

Farmington, Gallup and Hobbs are among the largest districts to see some of the biggest gains. Schools in Gallup, for example, have the lowest rate of reading proficiency at 25.8 percent. But they have marked double-digit gains over four years and had the highest year-over-year growth among large districts for 2018.

Farmington leads the large districts with more than 42 percent of students proficient in reading and more than a quarter proficient in math. More than 26 percent of students in the Gadsden district in southern New Mexico are also proficient in math.

Education officials said districts in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Clovis and Deming are also starting to show progress. In Albuquerque, test scores show improvements in proficiency over the last year at all grade levels except for dips in math among 10th- and 11th-graders.