A yearslong standoff over reading proficiency standards and whether young New Mexico students can be held back a grade is coming to a head in the closing months of the administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
At a public hearing Thursday, educators and school officials protested new rules that would alert families sooner about literacy difficulties and make some elementary students repeat a grade if they still can't read proficiently. The state Legislature has repeatedly rejected similar proposals to retain students.
Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said the plan is based on open and honest communication with parents and has been misunderstood and misrepresented by opponents. His office declined to comment on how it might respond to criticism from a public comment period that ended Thursday, or how soon the rules might take effect.
Groups including the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty say the rules are counterproductive and that it is more important to extend the school year for struggling students and bolster prekindergarten, tutoring and after-school programs.
"The proposed rule does not implement or support any programs that actually help students learn," wrote Lauran Winkler, a staff attorney at the Center on Law and Poverty. "It appears the Public Education Department is seeking to legislate through rule-making what it could not convince the Legislature to do after many years of unsuccessfully trying to pass third grade retention legislation."
Under the new rules, parents would have the right to override a first recommendation to repeat a grade, based on standardized testing results. Students who don't show improvement would be held back a grade.
New Mexico ranks near the bottom of states in reading and math proficiency.