Recently, a report called the “Trial Urban District Assessment” was released. The report compared student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 21 urban school districts, including Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendant Winston Brooks, upon release of the report, was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal as being “pretty ecstatic” about data showing that APS was “about average” compared to the 20 other cities in the report. Brooks went on to say, in a press release on the report, that “These results are encouraging because they show that APS is doing at least as well, and in several cases better, than many of the nation’s urban school districts facing similar educational challenges.”

The Rio Grande Foundation and others have used New Mexico’s poor performance on the NAEP to argue for education reforms. TheNAEP is a highly respected test, and we wanted to better understand the results and whether they truly were a cause for celebration.

The answer we found is that the cities in the TUDA report varied dramatically, especially in terms of poverty, and that in reality, APSactually underperformed relative to other districts of similar poverty levels.

Using U.S. Census data from a report called the “Small Area Income and Poverty Estimate,” which includes poverty data for school districts across the nation, we found that families of students in APS are wealthier than 17 of the 20 districts analyzed in the TUDA report. In some instances, districts included in the report – like Detroit, Cleveland and Fresno – had poverty rates more than two times that ofAPS.

Interestingly enough, students in the Miami-Dade district, which of course has followed the “Florida Model,” outperformed APS on fourth-grade reading, and both fourth- and eighth-grade math, despite having higher poverty numbers than APS.

In fact, while APS did not outperform a single district on the important fourth-grade reading test that had a lower poverty rate, seven districts that had higher poverty rates than APS – sometimes as much as 10 points higher – outperformed APS.

All of this is not meant to bash APS.

More important, poverty should not be a deciding factor in whether a child is educated or not, but it all too often is. That is why we at the Rio Grande Foundation have long argued for educational choice and reforms emphasizing accountability.

Nonetheless, the worst possible conclusion to draw from the TUDA data is that administrators, parents and legislators should be pleased because APS students are performing “average.” Even if “average” were good enough – I believe it is not – the reality is that the students in the cities in the TUDA report are in a state of poverty far worse than our own.

I hope that APS board members and the Legislature will not settle for “average” when compared with the poorest districts in the nation. Rather, I hope that they will instead put an end to the practice of promoting third-graders who cannot read on to the next grade and support tax credits for school choice – a policy that won support from large majorities of New Mexicans in a recent poll – as well as other reforms that increase accountability and empower parents.

Regardless of what one takes away from the TUDA results, now is not the time to rest on our laurels. APS students and graduates are not just competing against their peers in the United States, but are part of a global economy in which other nations routinely outperform even the best-prepared American students.

The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.