- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Most New Mexico third-graders who cannot read or meet literacy standards still advance to the next grade, while parents are not being informed properly of reading difficulties, according to new data.

The Public Education Department compiled statistics for the first time that show 6,815 students in third grade during the last school year did not attain proficiency in reading and that more than 95 percent, or 6,477, of those students moved on to fourth grade in the fall.

The survey released Sunday also showed that most parents are not receiving required notification about early reading difficulties, Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said.

The state requires that parents receive a “retention letter” and sign a waiver for students to advance to the next grade if children have not demonstrated reading proficiency, according to the department.

In all, 338 letters were sent to parents about whether their child should remain in third grade. The number of students kept in third grade was 243.

“As we look at the data, our parents aren’t being informed and our kids aren’t receiving the support they need to set them up for success,” Skandera said.

Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez have repeatedly pushed for legislation to limit “social promotion” and keep children in early elementary school longer when reading lags.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, a close ally in the Legislature, said Monday that she plans to reintroduce a bill to require students to repeat a grade or submit new proposals for greater adherence to current rules. Lawmakers convene Jan. 17.

Opponents of student retention say it does not necessarily improve reading skills and can interfere with social and academic development.

New Mexico is one of eight states that allow for retention but do not require it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sixteen states require students to repeat the grade if they lack reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

Skandera said the new statistics in new Mexico should be a call to action.

“The law requires now that parents be informed, and they’re not being informed,” she said. “What are we going to do? What’s the best action to take, and how do we do it in a meaningful way to support our kids and parents?”

The focus on student retention is a political distraction from a budget crisis that threatens to undermine the quality of reading instruction, said Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers. She said parents are informed of reading difficulties at least twice a year during parent-teacher conferences.

“All of the sudden, we’re shining this giant light on retention, but the light needs to be focused on the fact that the state is broke, that our school system is being asked to cut and cut,” Bernstein said.

In December, Skandera urged lawmakers to maintain general fund spending for public education next fiscal year after current-year spending was cut by 2.5 percent.

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