Early Education Pays Off, Retention Results Mixed
New Mexico’s investment in prekindergarten and other early childhood education is paying off with measurable differences in third-grade reading proficiency, an LFC evaluation shows.
However, some groups still lag behind the average, particularly those learning English and those living in poverty.
In addition, retaining students in third grade, an option debated during the legislative session, appears to produce mixed results, with most students improving but not enough to move up to grade level and some students getting worse, according to the LFC evaluation.
The LFC evaluation staff is scheduled to present its findings to the committee at 8:30 a.m. on July 12 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
The report finds about half of third graders are proficient on the state’s standardized test.
While proficiency rates differ among ethnic groups, the differences are more pronounced between groups with different English-language skills and incomes, even within the same ethnic group.
For example, 14 percent of Native Americans who qualify as low-income and English-language learners were proficient readers, but the percentage jumps to 64 for Native Americans without those disadvantages.
Those disadvantages can be overcome, however, if students attend state prekindergarten programs or the extended school-year program called K-3 Plus. Prekindergarten students perform as well as their peers by third grade, even though those programs serve high percentages of children who are English-language learners or living in poverty.
The evaluators say prekindergarten and K-3 Plus are cost-effective alternatives to retaining students, which has mixed results. While current law requires academic improvement plans for retained students, only 12 percent of the lowest-performing third-graders retained in 2010 became proficient in their second year of third grade, and five percent lost points.
The cost of additional school year for third graders is equal to a year of prekindergarten and four years of K-3 Plus.
The Legislature in January rejected a plan to make retention mandatory for nonproficient third-graders.
The study found performance is lowest for chronically absent children. About 45 percent of students who attended school less than 90 percent of the time scored as proficient, compared with 56 percent of those who attended school 95 percent or more of the school year.