Despite the importance of middle school on a child’s academic future, a new report released earlier this week by the state Legislative Finance Committee said New Mexico is not doing enough to ensure that students in the state succeed in these critical years.
The report, Performance, Programming, and Cost of Middle Schools in New Mexico, is the first to look into the needs of middle schools in the state. A number of reforms are suggested, not only for Legislature, but also the state Public Education Department, local districts and charter schools.
Staff members for the committee discovered that the majority of middle schools in the state routinely earn D’s and F’s on the state evaluations. Since 2005, middle school students have only made enough gains to increase the rankings to middle ground. While reading scores on the Standards Based Assessments have mostly gone unchanged, math scores saw a rise between 2005 and 2009, falling flat after that year.
However, state senator Howie Morales acknowledges that when policymakers discuss education, they typically focus on the ability to read among elementary students, or high school graduation rates, adding that middle school issues usually go unnoticed, writes Chris Quintana for The Santa Fe New Mexican.
“At least we’re having the discussion,” Morales, a former educator, said Thursday. “Students aren’t lost at high school. They’re lost in middle school.”
Committee members report that academic success in the eighth grade has a greater effect on a student’s future than does success in their high school years. Between the sixth and eighth grades is typically when achievement gaps are either closed, lessened, or increased, and middle school students face the added challenge of beginning adolescence.
Suggestions made within the report include additional after-school programs in order to keep students engaged, including programs related to career training and college preparation. The report went on to say that students who miss or skip school tend to perform worse on exams than students who attend classes.
Other suggestions include ensuring teachers are dedicated to specific subjects, as well as providing additional resources in an effort to ensure that teachers do not leave the profession. It was found that between 2012 and 2014, almost one-third of all middle school teachers in the state left their positions.
The report went on to say that middle schools need more funding because they have many of the same needs as high schools.
Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the Public Education Department, said some of the concerns outlined in the report have been addressed. The state has promised to increase the number of truancy officers at schools, and has already created a program to place social workers in schools.