Disappointing Education Proficiency Scores Despite Billions Spent; Low Scores And Reform Delays Blamed On Pandemic;  Patience And More Time Needed To Implement Reforms Mandated By Yazzie v. State of New Mexico

On September 1, 2022, the Legislative Education Study Committee was told that despite more than $1 billion of investments responding to the findings in the Yazzie-Martinez consolidated lawsuit, it was unclear if students named in the lawsuit are “any better off.” According to a Legislative Finance Committee report, much of the responsibility for the failure falls squarely on school districts with the districts having problems implementing remedies to a judge’s findings that New Mexico wasn’t providing a sufficient education system for “at-risk” students. The state Public Education Department has also had issues making sure districts are doing what they need to do.

PED Evaluator Rachel Mercer Garcia had this to say:

“Implementation and oversight challenges remain hurdles to improving student outcomes in our state. …  Given the learning loss associated with the pandemic, New Mexico faces a heightened need to really ensure resources are directed toward evidence-based programs to help support students and catch them up.”

Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus told lawmakers that oversight is something the PED is addressing in its coming iteration of the Yazzie-Martinez action plan, that will be finalized by the end of September. Steinhaus told lawmakers.

Is it the PED’s [responsibility]  to provide oversight and increase our oversight? Yes. And we are working on that.”

Districts haven’t taken advantage of money set aside for programs the court found would help improve education for “at-risk” students, especially when it comes to extended learning time and K-5 Plus programs. LFC analysts also reported that schools have collectively forgone $400 million in funds for both.

At the same time, school districts have held over cash balances over the years and have seen a more dramatic jump since 2017. At the end of last fiscal year, districts and charter schools were collectively carrying over $525.5 million. It was reported that Bottom of Form

the funding is sometimes held over because districts can’t count on being reimbursed by the PED in a timely way.

Growth in spending on central services, such as human resources, district planning and other costs, has also outpaced the growth of spending on instruction and student support services, according to the September 1 LFC report.

New Mexico has had 4 education secretaries since the July 2018 ruling. and the turnover in leadership has contributed to less than clear response to the landmark education lawsuit.

Secretary Steinhaus reported that PED has hired over 80 people in the 14 months since he became secretary. Steinhaus said this: .

“We have a good team of people, they’re performing at a very high level, and I feel confident that we can move forward. … Are we anywhere close to where we need to be? No, but we are on a path.”

LFC staff have also called for the PED to more closely monitor bilingual programs since there has been a declining participation over the last 10 years as English learners increased.

PED Evaluator Rachel Mercer Garcia Mercer said the department needs to look closer at spending of “at-risk” funding, adding that there’s currently a lack in mechanisms to make sure those dollars are being used.

The Link to quoted news sources is here:



On Friday, July 20, 2018, Santa Fe District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled in the landmark public education case Yazzie v. State of New Mexico that the state of New Mexico violated the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with an education. The Court ruling centered on the guaranteed right under the New Mexico Constitution to provide a sufficient education for all children. The lawsuit alleged a severe lack of state funding, resources and services to help students, particularly children from low-income families, students of color, including Native Americans, English-language learners and students with disabilities. The Court found that the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) under Republican Governor Suzann Martinez did not do the best it could with the funding it was given by the legislature to the education system.

Judge Singleton wrote in the landmark ruling:

“[The evidence presented at trial] proves that the vast majority of New Mexico’s at-risk children finish each school year without the basic literacy and math skills needed to pursue post-secondary education or a career. … Indeed, overall New Mexico children rank at the very bottom in the country for educational achievement. … The at-risk students are still not attaining proficiency at the rate of non-at-risk students … and the programs being lauded by [the Public Education Department] are not changing this picture.”

According to the judge’s ruling, in New Mexico at the time, 71.6% of the state’s public-school students come from low-income families, and 14.4% are English-language learners. Further, 14.8% of students have disabilities, and 10.6% are Native American. Judge Singleton addressing proficiency rates for Native American students said that in the previous 3 years, those students’ reading proficiency was at 17.6% and their math proficiency was at 10.4%.


In response to the Yazzie v. State of New Mexico landmark public education decision, Govern Lujan Grisham undertook to fully fund the state’s efforts to reform the State’s public education system and she was highly successful.  It has taken a full 4 years to get the job done.  Lujan Grisham succeeded in securing over $1 Billion dollars for public education during the 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions. In addition to the dramatic increases in public education funding, Lujan Grisham administration created  the Early Childhood Department, issued mandates to the Children, Youth and Families and Public Education departments, and increased the number CYFD social workers by at least 125.

An Early Childhood Trust Fund of $320 million was also created.  The base pay for teachers was increased by upwards of 20% and have risen  to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000 depending on the level of years of teacher experience.  During the 2022 New Mexico legislative session, more than $70 million was allocated to tribal entities to help offer culturally relevant lesson plans and access to virtual and after-school programs for those students. The money will be used to create culturally relevant learning programs, including Native language programs, for students in the K-12 system.


On Thursday, September 1, 2022, the Legislative Education Study Committee met and New Mexico’s statewide standardized test scores, known as the Measures of Student Success and Achievement (MSSA), were released.  The new MSSA tests were developed by New Mexico educators and were given for the first time in April, 2022 to students in grades 3 through 12.

You can review the 2022 MSSA proficiency percentages at the below links:



Legislative Education Study Committee Deputy Director John Sena reported to the committee that the state has made over $1 billion in investments since the ruling identified needs in the education of Indigenous students, English learners, those who are economically disadvantaged and those with disabilities, and despite the millions spent, the test scores were disappointing.

According to data from the Public Education Department (PED), for most grade levels in most subjects, only about a quarter to a third of students met the proficiency standard.  Below are the percentage of students who met the proficiency standard in each subject:



MATH: 25%


Note that little over a third of tested New Mexico students overall are proficient in language arts and only a quarter are proficient in math. There were instances of even lower scores. The tests found that just 16% of high school juniors were proficient in math.

The released proficiency assessment results revealed that for 3rd through fifth graders, English learners, students with disabilities, Indigenous students and those who are economically disadvantaged all fell behind overall statewide results in math and language arts.

Across all grade levels, economically disadvantaged students represent upwards of 74% of New Mexico students. The released proficiency test results revealed that economically disadvantaged third through fifth graders came the closest to statewide averages for those grade levels, with over 26% proficiency in language arts and a little under 19% proficiency in math or eight points behind in language arts, and over seven points behind in math.

An Albuquerque Public Schools spokesperson said just over a third of students in the district in grades 3 through 8 were proficient in English and Language Arts and about a fourth were proficient in math. In high school, four out of 10 students were proficient in English and writing and just under a fourth were proficient in math.

A Santa Fe Public Schools spokesperson said their results are closely in-line with the statewide scores.

Education officials during the Legislative Education Study Committee highlighted New Mexico’s recent struggles with uptake in extended learning time and K-5 Plus programs. It was in July that analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee said the programs have seen lagging participation since 2021 and a collectively had to forgo $400 million in funding.


According to the PED data, the proficiency test results for students in Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) were   essentially the same last year for those measured for students across New Mexico.

The testing results for APS students across all grade levels tested were roughly 36% proficient in language arts which is 2 percentage points higher than the 34% for  New Mexico students overall. APS had the same overall proficiency level of 25% in math as the rest of the state.

In the APS school system, the average test results for third through fifth grade Indigenous students and English learners were generally in line with statewide averages for their respective groups.   In both cases, the scores were slightly higher in language arts, and between 2% and 3% lower in math.

APS students in the same grade levels with disabilities and who were economically disadvantaged, however, scored lower in both categories by margins of roughly 2% to 4%.

APS students across all grade levels who were economically disadvantaged represent upwards of 69% and almost 74% of students statewide. According to PED and APS data, Indigenous, Hispanic and Black students fared the worst of any demographic groups in both math and language arts in APS.  The same was true across the state in every grade level tested.

There were a few key areas, including with some student groups identified in the Yazzie-Martinez consolidated lawsuit, where APS students lagged behind. APS had the same overall proficiency level of 25% in math as the rest of the state. In 2019, the last year that complete testing data was available, 31% of APS students overall were proficient in reading and 20% were proficient in math.

While some student groups identified in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit in APS generally hovered around statewide averages, others fared noticeably worse. APS Hispanic students were a little under 29% proficient in language arts, which is on par with the statewide average for third through eighth graders, and were over 18% proficient in math, which is 3% points behind the statewide average.

Statewide, 63% of students overall are Hispanic. In APS, that number is 66% at the end of last year’s school year.

Chanell Segura, the chief of schools for APS, said that while the proficiency test results were not what anybody wanted, there was an upside to the data saying it will provide a baseline that would help lay out a path forward for the district. She put it this way in a Albuquerque Journal interview:

“I don’t know that anyone was excited about the data, I don’t think it was a surprise to anybody.  But I do believe that [in] Albuquerque Public Schools specifically … we were very much excited to receive this data to be able to inform our decisions.”

Segura said APS is working to close the gap between those who lag behind and the rest of their cohort in several ways, to include restarting work to weave equity into grading in schools that are interested in doing so, looking into providing 24/7 high dosage tutoring to students and generally improving accessibility to opportunities like AP courses.

APS highlighted in a September 1 news release several initiatives the district has set in motion, including providing professional development to principals that’s tailored to their community’s needs and significant raises for educators. An APS District spokeswoman said it should help attract a diverse crowd of teachers and in turn help students who have historically lagged behind, because students thrive when their teachers reflect the communities, they teach in.

Another initiative both Steinhaus and Segura highlighted was the state’s ongoing efforts to train kindergarten and elementary school teachers in structured literacy which was described as learning to teach the “science of reading.”

In APS, Segura said that’ll take the form of LETRS training, which teaches the skills needed to master reading instruction and has been highly praised by state lawmakers. Segura said this:

“Our focus is that every student matters.  That is our commitment. … We are really trying to drill down to meet the needs of every student and to intervene early, so that we’re working with families, we’re working with the students, and looking at the whole student.”


PED Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said the new scores are what the state expected to see. He said they are in-line with student performance in past years and education leaders have known for nearly 2 years about the severely negative impact the corona virus pandemic has had on learning and school programs.  Steinhaus said the tests are the best way to gauge student progress since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but these low proficiency results are not what New Mexico should be seeing.

PED and APS officials also stressed that comparisons between last school year’s test results which are based on the Measures of Student Success and Achievement (MSSA) assessments, and those the state saw before the pandemic are not valid.   That is  because the new tests are in fact different tests in that they measure fewer grade levels, and some students take specialized tests. That said, the PED estimated when the new MSSA tests were originally announced in 2019 that there still would be some comparability with old data.

Despite the low tests scores Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus applauded how far New Mexico has come and acknowledged there’s still ground to cover and he said this:

“New Mexico has come a long way in serving those most underrepresented students.  “We’re not where we want to be. … We still have a long way to go. … I will not be satisfied until we get to that 100%, and that’s not unreasonable. That is doable. … I’m excited about the opportunity that we’ve got in front of us. We’ve got 300 more teachers with licenses in our classrooms. We’ve got a whole bunch of initiatives to address what the test is telling us and start turning the corner for our kids and for our schools, and start moving forward in increasing achievement.”


Despite the low-test scores, PED Secretary Kurt Steinhaus reported to the Legislative Education Study Committee that there has been significant progressed made.  He said New Mexico has filled 300 of its vacant teaching positions, which have been estimated by the PED to be as high as 1,000 at the end of last school year.  He also pointed to pockets throughout the state in which students have improved.  He noted that he’d picked out some of the most outstanding schools and that their growth wasn’t necessarily seen in the rest of New Mexico’s schools. Steinhaus acknowledged there are several areas New Mexico needs to focus on including improving attendance, graduating more students and boosting achievement in all subjects.

Steinhaus said the Public Education Department intends to bring several legislative recommendations to lawmakers for math funding, acknowledging the state’s lower achievement in math than in language arts. Because of that gap the PED department has already launched a math-focused initiative. The PED has said it will assemble a 150-strong math tutoring corps, provide virtual professional development to teachers geared toward math instruction and introduce new math curricula focused on applying math concepts to careers.

The secretary said other states have been able to turn a corner in 10 to 15 years, so it could take that long, but he hopes New Mexico makes progress in a much shorter time period.

The links to quoted news sources are here:





On May 14, the New Mexico Public Education Department released a detailed plan to address the landmark public education court case of Yazzie v. State/Martinez and mandated reforms to improve the New Mexico’s failing public education system and offer better and equal opportunities for all students.

The release plan by the Grisham administration is and includes improvements for every aspect of the education system. The link to review the plan is here:


According to the draft of the plan, it should be considered as a companion to the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) 2022 Comprehensive Strategic Plan which offers remedies to the Yazzie/Martinez decision embedded throughout. According to the plan, the work that lies ahead for NMPED and schools will require systemic change to address the needs of the students and families impacted by decades of neglect and underfunding, including students with disabilities, Native American students, English learners, and economically disadvantaged students. These students account for over 70% of the population in New Mexico’s public schools.

The action plan states that for New Mexico students and their families to realize their full potential, it is incumbent upon both NMPED and its partners, especially the school districts, to do their part in ensuring educational equity, excellence, and relevance for all students. By implementing the recommendations in this plan, all of New Mexico’s public-school students will benefit.

According to the plan of action, NMPED is planning a future in which students are engaged in a culturally and linguistically responsive educational system that meets their academic, social, and emotional needs.

To that end, this action plan is focused on the following long-term goals:

  1. Assuring external factors like race, language, economic status, and family situations do not equate with lower rates of success in educational achievement and career prospects.
  2. Increasing academic proficiency in math, science, and languages to ensure that all students graduate well prepared for the ever-changing world of college, career, and civic engagement.
  3. Eliminating achievement gaps among New Mexico students, particularly English learners, economically disadvantaged students, Hispanics, Native Americans, African Americans, and students with disabilities.
  4. Respecting, honoring, and preserving students’ home languages and cultures by implementing culturally and linguistically responsive instruction and learning for all students.


The action plan contains some very big picture goals for public education in New Mexico.

Graduation rates in the last few years have been in the low to mid-70s. The education department wants the statewide graduation rate to get to 90% by 2027. Education leaders also want to close graduation gaps between ethnicities and disadvantaged students.

Another target is improving reading and math proficiency rates. PED leaders want those up by 50% in the next four years.

The plan also focuses on teachers, class sizes, and building on recent successes, including increases in funding. Just this year, the state legislature passed pay raises for teachers and more money for Pre-K programs.

Since the lawsuit, the state has boosted help for economically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities and English learners. It’s also upped funding for more reading programs, extended learning time and more and better internet access.

Outside of funding, PED leadership points out the launch of equity councils and the work to create a response team just for the lawsuit.

The link to news source material is here:



During the September 1 Legislative Education Study Committee, Alisa Diehl, an  attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty who is working on the legal team representing the Yazzie plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the action plan is deficient  in 3   key areas.  The 3 areas she identified are:

  1. The plan doesn’t include short- and long-term action steps that are aligned with the court’s findings or that achieve the goals it laid out for the state.
  2. It does not detail the changes that will be needed to meet those goals, like cost and budget analyses or estimated increases in staffing.
  3. Finally, she said, the plan fails to describe how the state will measure how well the actions it’s taking are preparing students for college or careers.

Attorney Deiehl told the committee:

“Without clearly articulated goals of what the state is trying to achieve that are aligned with the findings in this case … New Mexico will continue to fall short … will continue to see a disconnect between appropriated funding and improved student outcomes.”

PED Deputy Secretary Vickie Bannerman responded that the PED is reworking the plan and aims to have its next draft done by the end of the month. The final version will be released in October or November.

It was also reported that the PED is also working on a question-and-answer document addressing some of the feedback it got on the first draft.  Many of the responses focused on improving outcomes for Indigenous students, encouraging efforts to better consult with community members and calling for greater accountability for outcomes in the plan.

Melissa Candelaria, education director at the Center on Law and Poverty and another member of the Yazzie legal team, acknowledged the work the PED has done to develop its action plan. Still, she said it’s evident that there’s still a way to go for New Mexico students.

“The student outcome data and proficiency rates need to be improved significantly, especially for the four student groups in the case. … None of us want to be in litigation forever … but if the state doesn’t come up with a solid plan to satisfy the court’s order, it may ultimately have to intervene as it has done in the past.”


Albuquerque Democrat Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart  urged patience with the state in implementing the reforms and argued the state is “on track” with making the changes it needs to and said this:

“When you offer new programs, you offer new ideas, you offer new training – it just takes a long time. … K-5 Plus and extended learning were just fantastic before the pandemic, and you can almost say that about anything we’ve been doing. So I just think we should all take a big breath and realize that it is going to take us a while to make these changes.”

The link to the quoted news source material is here:



The former Republican Governor and the Republican party should be absolutely ashamed of the damage done to New Mexico’s public education system and which was the basis the landmark education ruling of Yazzie v. State of New Mexico.  The former Republican Governor with her public education policies and her Secretary of Public Education appointments, especially the appointment of Secretary Hanna Skandera, contributed and resulted in the state’s failing education system.

In 2018, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned in part on the platform of creating a “moonshot for public education”.  She did so in part on the realities she faced having to come up with the funding and implementation of the reforms to address the Yazzie v. State/ Martinez reforms.  She also had to deal with the disarray of management and destructive education policies established by her former Republican Governor predecessor that contributed significantly to the deterioration of the states school system. Among those policies she threw out were the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing and using an A- F grading system to measure how individual schools measured up against each other with both never a good fit.  Then early 2020, the pandemic hit the state and hit it hard. Schools had to be closed with remote learning implanted.

It must not be forgotten that it was Governor Lujan Grisham’s predecessor former Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named” who failed New Mexico’s kids by destroying the state’s public education system for a full 8 years year, after year after year.

It is a major mistake for anyone to say that the millions that have been spent over the last 3 years on public education have had no impact on student proficiency results.  What needs to be understood is that the state’s entire public education system is going through a major period of reform and adjustment that will likely take upwards of at least 8 years to complete

It will now take time, patience and funding to turn things around. The state’s education system now has the funding and now must produce the results that the public demands with no more excuses.


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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.