New proficiency scores show low attendance lowers results

·3 min read

Sep. 3—As chronic absence rates remain high at New Mexico schools, an analysis by Santa Fe Public Schools found students attending classes less than 80 percent of the time experienced a significant drop in proficiency scores.

Of the students who were in school 80 percent or less of the time, only 17.1 percent were proficient in reading and 7.6 percent were proficient in math.

That compares with much higher rates of proficiency among students who attend classes at least 96 percent of the time — 44.5 percent in reading and 34.7 percent in math.

"The lower proficiency rates for frequently absent students are startling and a wake-up call for parents, students and educators as to the importance of attending school each and every day. When students are not in class, they are not learning," Superintendent Hilario "Larry" Chavez said in a news release issued Thursday, after the New Mexico Public Education Department released the results of statewide assessments administered to students in spring. "With this news, we are issuing an urgent appeal to parents and families to make school attendance a priority each day."

The district said it was difficult to draw conclusions about its recent testing results and make comparisons with previous years' results. Less than 10 percent of students in the district participated in the state's new Measures of Student Success and Achievement exams in the 2020-21 school year, and other types of assessments were used in prior years.

Chavez told first lady Jill Biden, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and other federal officials on a White House call last week on federal American Rescue Fund dollars that Santa Fe Public Schools is using its elementary and secondary school relief funds to help boost attendance, offer extra programs to engage students in learning, and retain and recruit teachers.

The district reported a chronic absentee rate of about 36 percent compared to the state average of 29 percent in the 2020-21 school year. Last year, the district rate was about 50 percent, higher than the state's 40 percent.

District administrators cautioned against comparisons because of complicating factors leading to last year's numbers, such as midyear transfers, students switching between in-person and online learning, and COVID-19 quarantine periods.

It is also difficult to compare recent data to years prior to 2020 because the state Attendance for Success Act, passed in 2019, added excused absences to the chronic absentee rate and heightened absence reporting requirements. The intent was to create a system that alerted parents and, if the problem persisted, state authorities of repeated absences instead of punishing students for missed class time.

The district previously has been hesitant to draw broader conclusions based on attendance, especially as schools move toward implementation of standards-based grading. The new system does away with letter grades and ranks students based on their mastery of previously set and defined standards.

Chavez told federal officials on last week's White House call the move, partially funded by federal dollars, was to "ensure equity, close the achievement gap and accelerate learning."

Chavez said in a statement about new testing results the district's plan to address learning loss, released in April, would tackle the challenges of chronic absenteeism and learning loss.

"The plan includes phasing in innovative standards-based learning and grading in schools, forging community partnerships for high-quality after-school programs and focusing on student absenteeism and re-engagement," he wrote. "Implementation began in June and continues full steam ahead. Students must be present in school and have their social and emotional needs met."