Gov. Susana Martinez, center left, and education secretary Hanna Skandera, center right, reveal the latest graduation rates at a news conference Thursday afternoon, Jan. 24, 2013 at Rio Rancho High School in Rio Rancho, N.M. New Mexico’s four-year high school graduation rate jumped to 70 percent just a year after federal data showed the state’s 63 percent rate was one of the worst in the nation. (AP Photo/The Albuquerque Journal, Roberto E. Rosales)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico high school class lauded last week for increased graduation rates was not required to take a high-stakes exit exam.
The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/YdVkEC ) that a bill passed and signed in spring 2011 gave students a one-year reprieve from a difficult exit test. The class of 2011 was required to pass the state High School Competency Exam, while the class of 2012 had no such requirement because of the reprieve.
Last week, Gov. Susana Martinez announced that New Mexico’s 2012 four-year high school graduation rate jumped to 70 percent just a year after federal data showed the state’s 63 percent rate was one of the worst in the nation. Martinez said the improvement in just a year’s time was evidence that New Mexico schools could provide the needed services to help students graduate.
Still, state officials downplayed the test difference and said the graduation gains were genuine. Public Education Department spokesman Larry Behrens said 70 percent of the class of 2013 statewide has already passed the exit exam required for their class, which bodes well for next year’s graduation rate.
Behrens also said students from the class of 2012 were expecting to be the first class to take a more difficult exit exam and studied accordingly. Many schools offered after-school tutoring and test preparation when those in the class of 2012 were juniors, before the bill passed and gave them the reprieve.
“The Class of 2012 was the first in the state to be prepared under the expectation they would have to pass the high stakes exam. These results are a testament to teachers, students and parents responding to high expectations for our state,” Behrens said in a written statement.
Students who graduated in 2011 were the last class required to pass the old state exit exam. That test had been used since 1986 and tested skills at about an eighth-grade level. Officials decided several years ago to replace it with the Standards-Based Assessment that students take in 11th grade.
The SBA, which students were already taking as a measure of school quality under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, measures skills at about an 11th grade level.
It is hard to tell whether graduation rates for the class of 2012 would have been different if students had taken the old exit exam or had been expected to pass the SBA.
“Passing” the SBA means earning a composite score set by the PED. Students do not necessarily have to score “proficient” in both math and reading, as long as they are at least “nearing proficient” in both subjects and their combined raw scores are high enough to reach the PED threshold.