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New Mexico Works To Address Pandemic Related Learning Loss

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Members of the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee say more needs to be done to address pandemic related learning losses.  At a recent meeting, Representative Javier Martínez called on the legislature to find creative ways to reengage lost students.

“I'm concerned because I don't know that laptops or Twittering or sending the screen is going to re-engage any of those middle school to high school students,” Martínez said. “And I'm scared. If you look at the crime rate across the state, if you look at Albuquerque, those are 15–16-year-olds that are out of the system, right, completely out. I'm not sure we're going to get them back with laptops and an extended school year.”

So far, the majority of the state’s pandemic-related expenditures have gone toward instructional purchases like technology resources, but the increased investment has not been enough to keep all students engaged in the classroom.

Last November, the New Mexico Public Education Department reported that approximately 12,000 students who had been enrolled in the spring of 2020 were unaccounted for during the fall semester. As of March, that number was reduced to about 2,500 missing students.

And even for those in attendance, measuring learning loss has been a challenge, according to Deputy LFC Director Jon Courtney.

“Parents are doing a really good job on these tests, there's a lot of parental help it’s thought,” Courtney said. “And there's some selection biases there in that. A lot of the students that took the tests are students that aren't from low-income or at-risk backgrounds.”

1.5 billion dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund has been allocated to schools, local educational agencies and the New Mexico Public Education Department to address COVID impacts.  While each district is required to submit a spending plan, Majority Floor Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton says she worries funds could potentially be misappropriated.

“Even when we send money to them, we say appropriate this funding for this, this and this—it never happens most of the time,” Stapleton said. “Some do it right, some interpret it differently…How do I know that [equal] education to the children across the state of New Mexico is being sufficient and allocated correctly?”

One safeguard cited is a stipulation that 20% of funding must go toward combating learning loss through extended educational opportunities.

In April, the Las Cruces Public School Board unanimously voted against implementing an extended calendar for the 2021-22 school year, despite the potential for additional funding. The board made the decision after listening to public comment and reviewing a community survey that indicated the majority of those who responded were against extending the calendar.

LCPS Board Member Teresa Tenorio says learning loss does need to be addressed, but she says a little extra time in the classroom won’t solve the problem.

“Going forward, I just don't understand how 30 extra minutes a day, or ten extra days, where everything else is structured the same, would benefit my kids or any kids in our district,” Tenorio said. “Because it's not working, it hasn't worked. We need to really try something different.”

Tenorio says there are more beneficial ways for the district to help students, citing smaller class sizes as one example. A 2016 study by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado found that reducing class sizes can improve learning outcomes.

The research said this is especially important for populations most impacted by large class sizes, like low-income and minority students. The report recommended class sizes between 15 and 18 people.

While class size reduction can be expensive, the report said it could prove to be the most cost-effective policy in the long run.