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Superintendent's News

Posted: November 3, 2023

The Long Shadow of the Pandemic

In his weekly message, Superintendent Scott Elder discusses the latest graduation rates and proficiency results.

It’s hard to believe that October is in the rearview mirror and that Veterans Day and Thanksgiving are around the corner. To all the teachers, principals, and other school staff, I congratulate you for making it through Halloween. I know from my years in the classroom that between the costumes and all the sugar, Halloween can be a lot for school staff. But you survived!

As you may know, the state Public Education Department has released graduation and proficiency rates for APS and every other New Mexico school district.

The four-year graduation rate for our class of 2022 was 70 percent, a drop of 10 percentage points from the class of 2021. Obviously, I’m not happy about the drop, but we were expecting it given the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on students nationwide.

These rates are from two years ago, our first as we returned to face-to-face instruction. During the virtual learning phase of the pandemic, we encountered a significant loss of about 5,000 students. Many of these students transitioned to homeschooling or private schools, or they moved out of the state. Other students seemingly vanished.

Students who provided information about their new academic endeavors should have been removed from our rolls. However, unrecorded transitions – those students who may have moved out of state or switched to homeschooling but didn’t tell us – are counted against us.

Beyond those technical issues, the COVID-19 pandemic had significant impacts on our students. Some faced connectivity challenges when schools were operating virtually and fell behind academically. Others were forced to get a job to mitigate family income loss. Many others suffered health and mental health issues.

Looking ahead, we expect that graduation rates will stabilize before shooting up again as new cohorts, unaffected by credit loss during the pandemic, enter the system.

The assessment results released this week, meanwhile, were mixed.

Our elementary and middle school students performed better on this year's student assessments, with the largest gains in English language arts and smaller gains in mathematics and science. But our 11th graders saw declines in mathematics, science, and evidence-based reading and writing.

We saw:

  •  A 4.6 percentage point increase in English language arts for elementary and middle school students, with 39.6 percent of students who took the test last spring testing proficient.
  •  A half percentage point increase in mathematics for elementary and middle school students, with 25.6 percent of them testing proficient
  •  A 1.2 percentage point improvement in science districtwide, with 34.9 percent proficient. High school juniors, however, saw a 4.3 percentage point drop in science, with 38.1 percent proficient.
  •  A 1 percentage point drop in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing for high school juniors, with 40.5 percent proficient.
  •  And a 3.5 percentage point drop in Mathematics for high school juniors, with 19.4 percent proficient.

I’m happy to see the improvements, and I’m grateful to every teacher and every other APS employee who is working hard to help our students succeed. I suspect that our focus on LETRS training is paying dividends, given the increase in English/Language Arts proficiency rates we’re seeing for elementary and middle school students.

But I recognize there’s more work to be done.

As you know, we’ve launched several initiatives to improve academic outcomes for our students. They include the shift to Student Outcomes Focused Governance by the Board of Education and the adoption of a new strategic plan for the district requiring that students be taught at grade level with high-quality materials. The plan also prioritizes student engagement and doing anything possible to ensure APS schools are safe, and that students feel welcome and challenged.

We’ve done an administrative reorganization that places greater emphasis on improving literacy and mathematics proficiency rates. Specifically, one associate superintendent is working with schools and APS departments to improve literacy rates while another associate superintendent is in charge of the district's efforts to improve math proficiency rates.

We’ve also increased instructional time in English and mathematics for elementary school students. And we’re offering free online tutoring for all students.

Getting graduation and proficiency rates where we want them won’t be easy, but I’m confident that our district can get there.

Have a great weekend, and if you haven’t taken advantage of early voting, please vote on Tuesday.