N.M. academic achievement gap old problem

The Albuquerque Journal

Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera is once again the target of criticism, this time by Hispanics who are rightly concerned about the large achievement gap in New Mexico between Anglo and minority students, which has remained static for years.

Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Skandera shortly after the 2010 election to reform the state’s education system with a goal of lifting New Mexico out of its also long-standing position at or near the bottom of national rankings for student achievement.

Skandera has proposed an aggressive program, despite resistance from a Legislature that won’t confirm her and from some superintendents willing to give her a failing grade — as long as they can do it anonymously. Her department has proposed changing the way schools are graded, ending social promotion of third-graders who can’t read and intervention efforts have failed, and improving the teacher ranks by developing a system for evaluating their effectiveness. Only the school grading system has passed the Legislature, and it’s still a work in progress.

Now, some Hispanics complain that enough is not being done by the state to address the achievement gap. The gap shows that, while 67 percent of Anglo students were proficient in reading last year, only 44.3 percent of Hispanic students were. The figures are worse for math. Similar gaps exist for African-American and Native American students.

Hispanic groups also joined the list of people and organizations who have complained that Skandera is hard to reach and meetings seem out of the question. Skandera disputes that, but as the number of such claims grows it is an area she should address.

The achievement gap also should be addressed as part of education reform, and the needs of groups whose students are doing worse than others should be heard and considered.

But her critics would do well to remember that the achievement gap was in place long before Skandera was appointed, and that raising the level of the water raises all the boats — and New Mexico’s education lake is in need of a game-changing runoff.