SANTA FE – 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.
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 says that about 6% of students still can’t get online.
The legislative analysts warned lawmakers that under current conditions, students could face up to 14 months of learning losses.
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.