Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Albuquerque Journal 

Public ed fails to get critical info to parents


November 22, 2017

For years, the argument in New Mexico has been that parents alone should decide whether their child needs to repeat a grade in school. Now it turns out barely half of the parents who need solid academic information to make that decision are even getting it.

State lawmakers have believed it is so important adults know when their first-, second- and third-graders are behind in reading that there’s a state law requiring school districts to notify them of that by mid-schoolyear — so there is time for parents, grandparents or guardians to step in and work with educators to do what they can to help their children get up to speed before the end of the school year. The notice also gives adults time to explore whether holding a child back might improve their chances of future success.

So it’s outrageous to learn only 56.5 percent of such parents statewide received the required notifications from their school districts last school year. In hard numbers, 27,143 first- through third-graders were not proficient in reading midway through the 2016-17 school year, but only 15,344 notification letters were sent to their parents. (And while it’s important to note that’s a great improvement from two years ago, when just 8 percent of families were notified mid-year, it is still far short of the requirements.)

Study upon study has shown the importance of reaching reading proficiency in the early years of elementary school; it’s said you learn to read in the early grades and read to learn thereafter. Without this most basic skill, youngsters fall further and further behind — a key reason many drop out before attaining a diploma, let alone a college degree, relegating them to menial employment opportunities and slim chances of economic independence.

It was even worse at the state’s largest school district: Albuquerque Public Schools had about 9,500 first- through third-grade elementary school students who were behind in reading, but only about 1,000 parents were notified in writing — an unconscionable 10.5 percent, according to recently released data from the state Public Education Department.

PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski points out, “The district isn’t even giving the parents the option” of intervening mid-school year to help their kids — with tutoring, extra time reading at home, after-school reading programs or other methods — to get on grade level, let alone weigh the important decision whether or not to hold them back a year.

Meanwhile, nearly all the families of Alamogordo Public Schools’ struggling readers received letters by mid-school year last year, and those families worked with the district to determine retaining 117 students in first to third grade last school year was the best option. By comparison, at Albuquerque Public Schools, about 15 times larger than Alamogordo Public Schools and a longstanding foe of PED’s efforts to improve the state’s dismal education record, only 103 reading-challenged students repeated a grade.

And while not every parent gets involved, there’s no telling what that number would have been if families had simply been formally informed, or how much better off those students would be now if they had had the chance for remediation and/or retention then.

— Albuquerque Journal


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