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Legislators in Santa Fe are seriously considering a proposal that would increase New Mexico’s onerous gross receipts and personal income tax in order to fund a massive increase in education spending.

While increasing the tax burden on New Mexico workers and businesses by half a billion dollars would be questionable in the best of economic times, such a mammoth tax hike in today’s difficult economy would be especially unwise. Worse, New Mexico schools – including those in Socorro County – aren’t being upfront about their results or lack thereof.

An analysis by the Rio Grande Foundation found that achievement test proficiencies reported by New Mexico’s Public Education Department’s SBA tests exaggerate the numbers of children who are at or above grade level as compared to those estimated from the well-respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Though better known as the Nation’s Report Card, the NAEP reports that approximately 17% of New Mexico’s public school children are proficient- at or above grade level in both math and reading. But the state claims about 36% as proficient- 110% above the NAEP number. One wonders, “Is this inflation a cosmetic used to improve the looks of public schools while real reform is ignored?”

It’s a national phenomenon. Worst is Mississipi- artificially elevating student proficiencies by 300% over the NAEP. Least bad is Massachusetts- only increasing them by 25%. The median states increase them by about 100%. New Mexico pushes them up 110%. Reviewing the various states’ NAEP proficiencies reveals the unpleasant fact that the inflation tends to be higher when the NAEP numbers are lower. It appears that the greater the embarrassment to disguise, the greater the inflation applied. Not much integrity here.

Recently, we developed a method to estimate how individual schools and districts would have performed on the NAEP- necessitated by the fact that it does not report proficiencies locally. These improved estimates for New Mexico schools and districts are now available. Of particular interest are the lowest and highest performing schools within Socorro County.

The Table shows the percentages of students who are proficient at the best and worst schools here in Socorro County. We show the proficiency percentages from both the state’s inflated SBA examinations and our NAEP estimation procedure.

 

 

 

NAEP Estimates for Socorro County Schools Showing Worst And Best Performers’

 

Grade

 

District

 

School

 

Worst or Best?

 

SBA Proficiencies

 

NAEP Proficiencies

 

4th

 

MAGDALENA

 

MAGDALENA ELEMENTARY

 

Worst

 

18%

 

8%

 

4th

 

SOCORRO

 

COTTONWOOD VALLEY CH

 

Best

 

63%

 

35%

 

Generally, the NAEP estimates for 4th and 8th grades have been found accurate to within 5%

 

8th

 

SOCORRO

 

R. SARRACINO MIDDLE

 

Worst

 

22%

 

10%

 

8th

 

SOCORRO

 

COTTONWOOD VALLEY CH

 

Best

 

65%

 

29%

 

Generally, the NAEP estimates for high school have been found accurate to within 10%

 

11th

 

MAGDALENA

 

MAGDALENA HIGH

 

Worst

 

19%

 

5%

 

11th

 

SOCORRO

 

SOCORRO HIGH

 

Best

 

35%

 

13%

 

 

Conclusion: All Socorro County schools perform at levels lower than usually thought.

Sadly, public schools are unlikely to make the needed reforms as entrenched teachers’ unions fight any changes that could improve labor productivity. Yet, they are more than willing to demand still more from already struggling taxpayers.

Rather than pouring even more mone into government-run schools that are clearly not doing an effective job of educating our children, reforms that include tax credits that allow educational choice, smaller schools, and restoring local control should be tried. Absent real reform, New Mexico education authorities should at the very least consider giving the SBA tests a dose of integrity by requiring rough alignment with the Nation’s Report Card. That’s the least they can do.

 

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.