SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) — Remote learning is causing New Mexico students to fall behind, that’s according to a recent study presented to state lawmakers. Legislators discussed different solutions to get New Mexico kids back on track, including adding extra days to the school year, but it all comes with a hefty price tag.

“My oldest one is doing remote, she does enjoy it but she misses the interaction with her friends,” said APS parent Julian Carrasco. Carrasco’s daughter is a fifth-grader at Mitchell Elementary and like many students across the state, she’s facing challenges with remote learning.

“She’s more nervous to sometimes ask for help when she’s online than normally when you’re in a classroom,” said Carrasco.

As many as four in five New Mexico public school students are failing at least one class in some of the state’s school districts, according to data made public Wednesday by legislative analysts. The study said New Mexico students are missing out on four months to a year’s worth of education because of remote learning.

“For example, there seems to be a higher rate of students failing classes,” said an LFC analyst. “One survey of athletic coaches 36 percent of student-athletes were failing one or more classes.”

The report said teachers are having a tough time reaching 20 percent of their students and teachers also report that a third of their students are not engaging in their classwork.

“As we move forward we’re going to think about how we leverage every possible available resource,” said Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart.

In order to fix this educational gap, the state is asking lawmakers to consider extending the next school year by ten to 25 days, but that’s something parents like Carrasco are not a fan of.

“I don’t see why they would need to have school-going longer if people could find tutors for their kids,” said Carrasco.

If lawmakers go that route, it could cost the state $138 million.

“The bottom line is we need to get our kids back in school,” said Sen. Gay Kernan (R- Hobbs). “The investment in time and money continuing going into online is not producing the results we need as citizens of New Mexico for our children.”

They delivered their report as state lawmakers consider the impact of school closures, educational challenges posed by remote learning, and learning losses attributed to much less in-person schooling because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The school closures have disproportionately impacted low-income students who are less likely to have access to the internet to participate in online learning and more likely to live in districts with little or no in-person learning options, the report said.

In the rural southern community of Hatch, nearly 80% of middle and high school students are failing at least one class, the report said.

That was the level of students failing at least one class illustrated in the report, which included data from 29 of the state’s 89 school districts mostly in smaller and rural areas. The average failing rate was 42% and the largest school district included in the report, Rio Rancho, had a 25% failing rate.

In Santa Fe, half of the city’s public high and middle school students had at least one failing grade, with rates at more than 60% for freshmen and sophomores and close to 40% among middle-school students, according to separate data from the Santa Fe Public Schools.

New Mexico is one of seven states that has much of its in-person public school instruction, with virtually all middle and high school students studying remotely five days per week.

More than half of the state’s school districts have reopened elementary schools in a hybrid model where students attend classes two days weekly. Some special education students also go to school for classes.

About a quarter of the state’s school districts were approved by the Public Education Department to run hybrid models but decided against doing so, including the two largest districts in the state — Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

Educators and parents have succeeded in expanding student access to the internet since schools closed in March, but the report states that about 6% of students still can’t get online.

The analysts estimated that the pandemic is costing the average kindergarten student 153 days of schooling and recommended expanding the school year to make up those days. The recommendations call for adding 25 days for elementary school students and 10 days at the middle and high school levels starting in fall 2021.

The pandemic’s toll on New Mexico’s public education could be hard to measure because state and federal officials have waived requirements for standardized tests.

Many school districts still test students to measure reading and math proficiency levels, but the legislative analysts concluded that those results are probably unreliable and incomparable to previous years.

Overview: Legislative Finance Committee Presentation

  • COVID-19 will likely compound New Mexico’s existing learning gaps.
  • Remote instruction has improved in the fall compared to the spring but is still an inadequate substitution for in-person learning.
  • New Mexico’s re-entry criteria and district-level decisions will keep most students in remote instruction through at least the fall.

New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee Report on Status of School Reopening and Remote Education in Fall 2020


The Associated Press also contributed to this report