Most New Mexico parents of students in first to third grade aren't getting required letters notifying them of students' lack of reading skills, according to numbers released Friday by the New Mexico Public Education Department.
The lack of notification is hurting parents with the decision on whether they should hold students back and stalling efforts to get students proficient under key early years, Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said in an interview with The Associated Press.
According to data released by the education department, 15,344 notification letters were sent last school year for the 27,143 students deemed not proficient in reading in first to third grade. State law requires school districts to send notification letters midyear to parents of students in those grades struggling with reading proficiency.
State data show that of those 27,143 students, more than 21,000 advanced to the next grade.
At Albuquerque Public Schools, the state's largest school district, around 9,500 students first to third grade were deemed as not proficient in reading last year, the state agency said. But only about 1,000 of those students received the required letters, Ruszkowski said.
By the end of the year, only 103 of those students were retained a grade, according to state numbers.
Meanwhile, Alamogordo Public Schools — a school district that is about 15 times smaller than Albuquerque's — retained 117 students from first to third grade, state numbers show. Most of the Alamogordo Public Schools struggling students in those grades received the required letters, state officials said.
Johanna King, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque Public Schools, said administrators were not available Friday to respond to the Public Education Department's numbers.
Ruszkowski said when districts fail to inform parents about the literacy levels of their children, they aren't giving parents the needed tools to decide if parents should hold a student back a grade. "The district isn't even giving the parents' the option," Ruszkowski said.
The state literacy numbers come as Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, has urged lawmakers to halt "social promotions" for the state's third-graders who aren't proficient in reading. Democrats and teachers unions have resisted the proposal over concerns that retentions don't solve student underachievement.
Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association-New New Mexico, said many students were not able to be placed in kindergarten through third-grade reading programs this summer because of budget cuts. Students should not be forced to be retained when the state isn't fully funding programs to help them, she said.
"As educators deeply committed to student success, our members and the districts they work for are providing reading interventions including extra reading classes to improve these skills," Patterson said. "If a student is really trying and can't achieve at their grade level, then testing to find problem areas is more successful than retention."
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