ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Parents and teachers have speculated for years about the effect the pandemic had on school kids’ learning. Now, the first statewide test results since the pandemic are in, and for the state’s largest school district, the numbers may be eye-opening for many.
New data from the New Mexico Public Education Department shows that only a quarter of Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) students are proficient in math and 35% are proficient in language arts. The new test results come from two tests administered in Albuquerque Public School classrooms. They took these tests for the first time in spring.
These tests replaced the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, better known to parents and students as the “PARC” test. And because the new tests are different from previous years, APS says the results can’t really be compared to pre-pandemic scores. Still, the results show that the majority of public school students are behind the curve.
The low proficiency rates aren’t just a problem in Albuquerque, or New Mexico. Nationally, math and reading levels fell by the largest margin in over 30 years, according to the New York Times.
Across all APS schools and grades, only a quarter of students tested were proficient in math, the results show. Even fewer students in third, fourth, and eighth grade were proficient. So, the majority of all APS students were not proficient.
When it came to English and language arts, across Albuquerque Public Schools, only 35% of students tested were proficient, the data shows. Even fewer students in third grade and sixth grade were proficient. APS points to the pandemic as a key factor.
“No one knows better than our students, teachers, and principals that learning loss caused by the pandemic is real,” Superintendent Scott Elder said in a press release. “The test results show that our students aren’t where they need to be. We will use this information to set new baselines for student success and zero in on the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic to guarantee students get the support they need to catch up and excel.”
The data also shows racial and economic disparities in student proficiency. Economically disadvantaged students were more than five times more likely to be unable to meet mathematics proficiency standards the numbers show.
White and Asian students were, on average, more likely to be proficient in mathematics and language arts than Black, Hispanic, or multi-racial students, the numbers reveal. American Indian students had the lowest proficiency rates, with under 20% of American Indian students testing proficient in language arts and less than 12% testing proficient in mathematics.
Proficiency also ranged widely from school to school. For example, 73.2% of students at Desert Willow Family School near Comanche and San Mateo were proficient in math. 54.7% of students at SY Jackson Elementary in northeast Albuquerque were proficient in math. And only 3.5% at Atrisco Elementary, near Bridge and Atrisco, were proficient in math.
One teacher, who worked at an APS school during part of the pandemic but has since quit, says she’s not surprised by the results. And she thinks there’s more to the low test results than just the effects of the pandemic. She asked to remain anonymous because she might try to work with the district again in the future.
“I think it goes well, well beyond the pandemic,” she told KRQE News 13. “I mean, [the pandemic] definitely had an impact. Certainly, no doubt about that to me, but I do think that, in general . . .people kind of treat teaching like guesswork, and it’s not guesswork.”
“People at the level of the district, people at the level of the school, and certainly [some] teachers treat teaching like guesswork,” she says, “instead of kind of relying on good evidence for what works for teaching kids.”
She says APS has implemented some good evidence-based policies to help kids learn. But she also says that implementing policy after policy, and change after change, isn’t helping.
“I’m getting frustrated with you know, trying to put a bunch of band aids on a broken arm, for lack of a better phrase,” she says. “We’re just trying a bunch of new things over and over again.” And it’s hard to know which policies worked and which didn’t because it takes time to see results.
Still, she says there’s more than just issues at the school level to blame. “It feels like a cop out to say this, but it’s systemic,” she says. “There are issues at every level.”
Monica Armenta, the spokesperson for APS, says that it’s too early to tell exactly why test results fell during the pandemic. But, she adds, the pandemic obviously strained every aspect of the system.
Now, APS says these results will act as the new baseline for testing. New targets for learning will be set based on these results.
“Our focus is student achievement,” APS Board President Yolanda Montoya Cordova said in a press release. “The Board of Education is charged with setting educational strategy for the district to bring about the progress we all want and need, and our students deserve.”
The district is currently working on initiatives to help improve student outcomes. This includes ensuring students have access to necessary technology, recruiting new teachers to the district, and developing a districtwide plan for focused tutoring, among other things.
As for concerned parents, the teacher who spoke with KRQE News 13 says what you do at home can help supplement learning. But it’s not going to be a cure-all.
“I really don’t like the idea that we should rely on parents to be teaching their kids at home. I think if you can do that, that’s wonderful. It’s great to read with your child and things like that,” she says. “But we can’t rely on that as a district or as an education system in general.”
“I think that one thing you can do is open the lines of communication with your child’s teacher,” she adds. And you can get involved in your school by volunteering. But remember, she says, if you’re going to connect with your student’s school or teacher, do so in a respectful, helpful way.