Six Things I Learned From New Mexico's District Grades

Friends & Colleagues -

Instead of the usual weekly news and research roundup, I'm trying something new that I hope to do more of over the next year. One thing New Mexico education is in dire need of is more independent analysis and reporting on what's working, what isn't, and how we can collectively move toward a new reality for our students. So, I'm hoping to tell more stories about our oft maligned public education system, including the many high points alongside honest assessment of where we must do better.

Earlier this month the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) released 2017 district grades and report cards for all 89 public school districts in New Mexico. (Since state authorized charter schools are technically "districts", they too receive district grades which are identical to their school grades.) Districts (also referred to as "LEAs": Local Education Agencies) annually receive these report cards, along with an A-F grade, just as schools do. District grades are determined by using a weighted average (determined by school size) of all schools within the district.

Being the data nerd I am, I downloaded the spreadsheet, (which you can do as well at the link above) and began poking around. I already knew we are a rather peculiar state. For example, while nearly half of our 340,000 public school students are in Santa Fe, Las Cruces and the Albuquerque Metro Area, more than half of our 89 LEAs are in rural areas with 1,000 students and less, often with only one or two schools. So I followed the data rabbit down the hole, plugged my spreadsheet in a fancy website, and pulled out six of the most interesting things I found. Below you'll find these six insights and two interactive graphics. Please play around with the graphs and let me know what you find. And if there's something you're curious to know more about that's not included, shoot me a message and let me know. I'd love to keep this page ongoing and updated.

Size & Location Matter

1. Our Ten Largest Districts Look Similar. Of the top ten districts across the state only two (Farmington and Rio Rancho) have Bs, the other eight come in with Cs. Altogether, these ten districts account for 211,268 students, or about 63% of all public students in New Mexico.

NM's Ten Largest School Districts

NM's Ten Largest School Districts

2. All "A" Districts Are East of or On the Rio Grande. Of the eight districts receiving an A, five (Des Moines, Roy, Clovis, Dora, and Tatum) are in the eastern half of the state, while three (Los Alamos, Corona, and Cloudcroft) are in central or east central New Mexico.

Districts With As

Districts With As

3. Some Bigger Districts Are Doing Well. Out of the twenty-eight districts with an A or B, five (Alamogordo, Artesia, Farmington, Lovington, and Rio Rancho) have ten or more schools. Farmington has nineteen schools and 11,590 students while Rio Rancho has eighteen schools and 17,117 students. Interesting that Rio Rancho has about 5,500 more students in one less school than Farmington. Tinker with the map below and see for yourself:

4. Small Districts Are All Over the Place. Not surprisingly, 51 out of 89 districts in New Mexico have less than 1,000 students. All but one A district (Los Alamos) falls into this category, however both F districts (Dulce and Zuni) hover around the 1,000 student mark. The distribution of grades for small districts is: seven As, thirteen Bs, twenty Cs, ten Ds, and one F - Zuni having just over 1,000 students.

Districts of 1,000 Students and Less

Districts of 1,000 Students and Less

EQUITY GAPS PERSIST

5. Almost All Districts Struggle to Meet Needs of American Indian Students. Of the thirteen districts with 30% or more American Indian students, only Farmington has a B or higher. The only two F districts in the state (Dulce and Zuni) are American Indian majority districts.

Districts with >30% American Indian Students

Districts with >30% American Indian Students

6. Most Districts Struggle to Educate Hispanic Students, But Not All. There are seventy-three districts in New Mexico with Hispanic student populations of 30% and greater: five As (Dora, Los Alamos, Roy, Tatum, and Texico), sixteen Bs, thirty-seven Cs, fifteen Ds, and zero Fs. Of the districts that have an A or B and 50% and greater Hispanic students, there are a total of nine. Again, all nine are either on or east of the Rio Grande.

A/B Districts with >50% Hispanic students

A/B Districts with >50% Hispanic students