Half of New Mexico students graded “not proficient”

By Ryan Lengerich

Barely half of New Mexico’s high school juniors were proficient in reading and less than half were proficient in math, according to results of a standardized test released Friday by the state Public Education Department.
The first-time assessment test, taken by more than 19,000 students in November, will be used to rate public high schools. Results show 56 percent of students are proficient in reading and 47 percent are proficient in math.
In eastern New Mexico, Clovis High School’s scores hovered around the state average while Portales High School dipped well below. Texico, Grady and Dora high schools landed in the top 10 in both subjects.
In Clovis, 51 percent of the 512 students tested were proficient in math while 52 percent of 513 students tested were proficient in reading.
Clovis schools Superintendent Neil Nuttall praised the test as a fair assessment.
“We feel OK. I don’t think we can say we feel good, but what makes us feel more encouraged more than anything is what we have put into place,” Nuttall said. “We have beefed up our curriculum. We have beefed up courses. We have increased the number of requirements for graduation.”
At Portales High School, where 158 students were tested, 39 percent were proficient in math and 41 percent in reading.
Portales schools Superintendent Jim Holloway did not return phone calls placed to his home and office. Portales High School Principal Melvin Nusser did not return calls placed to his home Saturday.
Statewide, minority students fared worse than average.
In reading, 44 percent of black students and 47 percent of Hispanics qualified as proficient. In math, 34 percent of blacks and 37 percent of Hispanics were proficient.
Fort Sumner High School ranked above state average in both subjects. Last month, Superintendent Lecil Richards apologized to state officials for failing to administer a standardized test to fourth and eighth graders in March.
He said he will leave it up to the state to decide if Friday’s results vindicate him and prove his schools are excelling.
“Test scores are just one indication and not the only indication of how our children are doing,” he said. “I really look at how they do in life, how they handle themselves and how they do after high school.”
Dora, Grady and Texico high schools recorded the highest scores in eastern New Mexico and ranked among the strongest in the state. More than 70 percent of the students in all three schools were proficient in math and reading.
Dora was in the top 10 in both reading and math proficiency scores. Dora earned the third best score out of New Mexico schools with a reading proficiency of 82 percent.
“It means a lot for the school,” Dora Schools Superintendent Jim Reed said. “Our teachers have worked really hard. We’re really pleased. It’s exciting for our kids. It (recognition) has to be the whole school. We have to have exceptional teachers in every grade to have a score like that. The other teachers build a good foundation.”
Nuttall compares his district’s test scores with schools of similar size. Percentages, he said, can be skewed with smaller schools such as Grady where 11 students were tested and Texico where 48 students were tested.
“We look at Rio Rancho for example, considered to be one of the best districts in the state,” Nuttall said.
Rio Rancho tested 767 students with 54 percent proficient in math and 69 percent proficient in reading.
Clovis schools Assistant Superintendent Ladona Clayton said the test will allow the district to align the curriculum based on the standards assessed.
“(The students) have been required in this test to think at very high levels of critical thinking,” she said. “They have to process how they reach an answer and describe that in writing, so that was a new way of testing for our students.”
The new test, which measures student performance against the state’s academic standards, was implemented under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
That act requires the state to have all students proficient in math and reading by 2013-2014.

PNT Staff Writer Tony Parra contributed to this report.