Report: Remote learning fails many New Mexico students

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — As many as four in five New Mexico public school students are failing at least one class in some school districts, according to data made public Wednesday by legislative analysts.

They delivered their report as state lawmakers consider the impact of school closures, educational challenges posed by remote learning and learning losses attributed to much less in-person schooling because of the pandemic.

The school closures have disproportionately impacted low-income students who are less likely to have access to the internet to participate in online learning and more likely to live in districts with little or no in-person learning options, the report said.

In the rural southern community of Hatch, nearly 80% of middle and high school students are failing at least one class, the report said.

The report included data from 29 of the state’s 89 school districts mostly in smaller and rural areas. The average failing rate was 42% and the largest school district included in the report, Rio Rancho, had a 25% failing rate.

In Santa Fe, half of the city’s public high and middle school students had at least one failing grade, with rates at more than 60% for freshmen and sophomores and close to 40% among middle-school students, according to separate data from the Santa Fe Public Schools.

New Mexico is one of seven states that has limited much of its in-person public school instruction, with virtually all middle and high school students studying remotely five days per week.

“I think the bottom line is we need to get our kids back in school, that the investment of time and money going into continuing to be online--which is not producing the results that we need as citizens of New Mexico for our children — It’s just not working,” said Lea County Sen. Gay Kernan.

Lea County on the border with Texas has mandated in-person learning. Kernan complained that New Mexico health officials set higher standards than nearby Arizona, which allows schools to open with higher rates of COVID-19 cases.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart defended the conservative approach, arguing that New Mexico is more vulnerable to the spread of the virus.

“We’ve got less of a healthcare infrastructure per capita than some of our neighboring states do. We’ve got more families who meet many of the risk factors that are identified by the CDC in schools in particular we have an older teaching population,” Stewart said.

More than half of the state’s school districts have reopened elementary schools in a hybrid model where students attend classes two days weekly. Some special education students also go to school for classes.

About a quarter of the state’s school districts were approved by the Public Education Department to run hybrid models but decided against doing so, including the two largest districts in the state — Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

Educators and parents have succeeded in expanding student access to the internet since schools closed in March, but the report states that about 6% of students still can’t get online.

The legislative analysts warned lawmakers that under current conditions, students could face up to 14 months of learning losses.

The analysts estimated that the pandemic is costing the average kindergarten student 153 days of schooling and recommended expanding the school year to make up those days. The recommendations call for adding 25 days for elementary school students and 10 days at the middle and high school levels starting in fall 2021.

The pandemic’s toll on New Mexico’s public education could be hard to measure because state and federal officials have waived requirements for standardized tests.

Many school districts still test students to measure reading and math proficiency levels, but the legislative analysts concluded that those results are probably unreliable and incomparable to previous years.


Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.