Taos County PARCC scores on the rise

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Most schools in Taos County have some celebrating to do now that the state test scores are in.

Almost all the public and charter schools in the county saw an increase or remained stable in their test scores compared to last year as measured on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, otherwise known as PARCC. Some schools in the Taos, Questa and Peñasco Independent Schools saw dramatic gains in math or language arts, while a few scores fell in one of the two subject areas.

Scores across the state have increased slightly as well.

Some Taos County schools caught the State Public Education Department's eye for their progress this past school year. PARCC tests students in grades 3-11 in English, Language Arts and Math with scores based on their proficiency in the subjects. While average scores across New Mexico have increased from the previous school year, officials are saying there are still steps and improvements to be made.

Local schools received praise from PED Secretary Chris Ruszkowski including Taos Academy, a PED graded 'A' school, for their efforts in increasing proficiency for the 2017-18 school year. Taos Academy currently sits above 35 percent proficiency in math, making it one of the highest performing state charters schools in the subject. The school also performed at the top of the list for English and Language Arts by placing sixth highest in the state for their above 55 percent proficiency.

"Taos Academy is a beacon campus," Ruszkowski said. "They embrace innovation, they embrace high standards. There is a reason why they are a top-10 school and it is because they are innovative and because they take risks."

Taos Academy has consistently received 'A' grades for the past four years from the PED and has been a high performer in the PARCC before.

Peñasco and Questa Independent Schools also received some high marks from the state's results, including Peñasco displaying the third highest growth in the state for English and Language Arts. Recently, Peñasco held an annual awards ceremony for their students where administrators handed out nearly 100 awards to students for their academic and athletic achievements.

"That's a testament to the hard work of all of my staff," said Peñasco Superintendent Marvin MacAuley. "They really put students first."

Peñasco more than doubled their language arts proficiency scores from 2016's 12 percent to the current 25 percent. With all the recent success, MacAuley said the school will continue to work on their scores and their students' progress. Students in Peñasco are prepped for the PARCC throughout the year by teachers administering interim assessments to better track students and their progress.

Río Costilla Southwest Learning Academy also received news last week when the school's scores came back at 80 percent proficient in English and Language Arts, up from the previous year's 50 percent. Though only 20 students were tested, Ruszkowski said other schools across the state can start to look at the schools like Río Costilla who are succeeding and mirror their progress.

Questa Superintendent LeAnne Salazar said the small school benefits from the low student-to-teacher ratio.

"We are very proud of our students and their performance and hope to see similar growth and development across the grade levels throughout the district," Salazar said.

Questa High School also raised their math scores from the previous year by nearly double.

Taos International Charter School was another school to have received accolades for the 2017-18 results despite their recent efforts to keep their doors open and hold on to their charter.

Taos International School's charter was not renewed by the Public Education Commission in 2017, a decision backed by Ruszkowski. The school appealed the decision and the case is currently being deliberated in Santa Fe District Court.

Taos International is listed as the third highest charter in the state for two-years' progress in English Language Arts with a 15 percent growth rate in their scores. Between 17-21 percent of the school's students are proficient in the subject.

"We're showing growth, good growth. Being on that list is awesome," said Taos International Director Nadine Vigil. "All we wanted was a chance to prove ourselves, and look where we are now."

Taos Municipal Schools saw some improvement with the 2018 PARCC scores including Enos Garcia Elementary students who brought up both English and math scores. Taos High School greatly improved their English scores but fell four points in their math.

Ruszkowski said the state's improvements are just the beginning and that schools should look to those who are succeeding to mirror that success.

"What we've seen is unprecedented progress in reading and math with more students than ever before being college and career ready," said Ruszkowski. "There's still a lot of work to do."

Out of New Mexico's 89 school districts, Ruszkowski said there were 11,000 more students proficient in math with 13,000 more proficient English and Language arts than in previous years.

All Taos County districts increased their proficient scores from 2017 in both English, Language Arts and Math. Overall, trends from 2016's scores are on the rise for Taos, Peñasco and Questa Schools.

As a whole, New Mexico students improved scores in English and Language arts from 26.4 percent proficient in 2015 to the current 31.1 percent proficiency and also raised scores in math from the previous year. About 21.6 percent of New Mexico students were proficient in math, an increase from the previous year's 19.7 percent.

Ruszkowski attributes much of the success to the teachers, principals and administration's work over the years readying their students for success.

Despite the success of New Mexico schools this year, many administrators in Taos County said, given the opportunity, they would switch the PARCC out for a different assessment test.

"It does show now that we've grown," said Vigil. "I don't think it is an accurate representation of who we are, but of course we have to use it."

The PARCC test took over following the New Mexico Standard Based Assessment tests for the 2015 school year and has caught criticism from teachers and parents for not being the best tracking assessment for student growth.

"PARCC is one measurement that can give baseline information about student achievement and while it gives us one way to look at student achievement I do not think it is all inclusive," Salazar said. "I think that our students learn in different ways and have different abilities and talents and if standardized tests were the only way to gauge success we would be in a terrible state as a nation."

Salazar, as well as MacAuley said not all students are good at taking tests and, any given day, even the best students can have a bad test day. Keeping this in mind, both districts will continue to use the state's system for the time being.

Both New Mexico gubernatorial candidates have expressed their doubts with the PARCC and have even touched on the possibility of seeking alternatives. Democratic candidate Michelle Lujan-Grisham's website says she plans to get rid of the PARCC and seek alternatives to student testing. The Santa Fe New Mexican has reported that Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce has called the test ineffective.

Other states have left PARCC behind. In 2010, 26 states began using PARCC while 32 used another standardized national test. By May 2016, only six states were still using PARCC, including New Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the journal Education Next.

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