Inside the Capitol

Saturday, August 21, 2010

8-25 Why Are NM Test Scores So Low?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE –- Why do New Mexico students score so low on national tests? It is an age old question casting a big shadow on our otherwise enchanting land.
Try as we may, we've never been able to solve the problem. Eight years ago, Bill Richardson recognized the problem as he campaigned for office.
New Mexicans responded by electing him governor and less than a year later passing a constitutional amendment diverting some of the state permanent fund into education.
Say what you will about some of Gov. Richardson's bold initiatives, his emphasis on improving student achievement was right on. His primary goal for New Mexico was economic development, an area in which we always have been lacking.
Richardson knew that good schools and a well educated work force is a key in attracting industry. So he put significant resources into improving education.
He raised teacher salaries from some of the lowest in the nation. He created a program encouraging parents to become involved in their children's education.
Other programs encouraged students not to drop out. He made kindergarten full day and funded pre-kindergarten programs for the underprivileged to better prepare those students for school.
But it hasn't worked. In fairness, students in the first pre-kindergarten programs are just now beginning to reach fourth grade where the testing programs begin. Early childhood education has been demonstrated to improve student learning so we may see some results there soon.
In my opinion, parental involvement in a child's education is by far the most important factor. I taught school 50 years ago in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights.
When a student got a grade of B or lower, I would expect that mother to be at school the next morning wanting to know how she could help her child raise that grade.
It's not just upper middle-class families where that interest in education exists. We see newspaper stories of single mothers working two jobs so they can give their children all the educational advantages they can.
But all too often, among the underprivileged, we see a lack of concern about children's education. It is possible for children to succeed educationally on their own. But it is much harder.
Too often there is peer pressure to just hang out after school instead of studying -- or to ditch school or even to drop out. The only hope for many of these students is some other adult taking an interest in the child. Programs have now been designed to recruit adults and pair them with a student at risk of dropping out.
There is concern that minority students score lower on tests and are more at risk of dropping out of school. An Hispanic Education Act was passed by this year's Legislature to take a close look at those problems and determine whether there are cultural traits that need addressed.
But it isn't just poor and minority students who are underachieving. Studies show American students, in general, lag behind much of the rest of the world.
In underdeveloped countries, students wake up every morning knowing the only way to get out of their cycle of poverty is through education. So they put all their energies into learning as much as they possibly can.
And much of what they are studying is math, science, engineering and technology. It is estimated that close to 90 percent of earth's people in these fields now live in Asia. The best schools in these fields are in Asia.
While those students yearn for the good life, American youth expect it. Math and science are too hard. Just give me my cell phone and all the upgrades and I'll be happy.
The future does not look good for America continuing to sit on top of the world. We must find some answers. In New Mexico, at least we may be starting to look in some of the right places.
WED, 8-25-10

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



Post a Comment

<< Home