PED Pushes To ‘Move The Needle’, Close Gaps In New School Year


The New Mexico Public Education Department will emphasize the three As along with the traditional three Rs during the 2022-23 school year in a concentrated effort to improve academic outcomes for every student group after two years of pandemic-related disruptions.

In addition to reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmatic, students returning to school this month will find a sharp focus this school year on attendance, achievement and attainment – of a high school diploma.

Other highlights for the new school year include:

  • The Public Education Department will promote positive “math identities” in the new school year with an initiative called “Math Is Me.” 
  • Almost three-fourths of New Mexico students (71%) will eat for free at school, thanks to 2020 legislation signed by Gov. Lujan Grisham. 
  • Through a $1.24 investment, every K-12 student and teacher can now access a suite of more than 20 industry-standard digital tools for design, photography, video and the web.
  • Social distancing is now a local decision.
  • COVID testing for staff is now a local decision.
  • Requirements to quarantine if exposed to COVID is now a local decision.
  • Participation in the Test to Stay program is now a local decision.


Secretary Kurt Steinhaus is urging every school district and charter school to focus on attendance, achievement and attainment in order to move the needle this year on three key measures of academic achievement: reading proficiency, math proficiency and graduation rate. New Mexico lags the national averages and state expectations on all three measures.

“Kids learn academics and social skills when they are in school, so attendance has to be our first priority,” Steinhaus said. “The more time our teachers have with students in class, the more they will achieve academically, so that’s No. 2. And if they are enjoying academic success, they’ll stay engaged in learning and make it across the finish line to a diploma, which is the ultimate goal of a K-12 education system.”


Math Is Me developed from emerging research about the importance of how students perceive their own ability to do math. The goal is to break down stubborn myths that girls and some racial minorities are not good at math while boys and other racial minorities are – myths that can strongly influence academic performance and contribute to gender and racial disparities in assessments of math proficiency.

As part of the initiative, the department’s Math and Science Bureau is offering teachers a professional development opportunity this fall called “Fostering Positive Math Identities.”

In addition, the PED’s College and Career Readiness Bureau is working hard to ensure students see the real-life value of math through the Careers2Communities program and the related Pathway2Careers math curriculum for middle and high school students. Both help students answer the all-important question: When will I ever use this? The curriculum and educator professional development that supports it are now available for eighth-grade math, Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II.


Although the federal government reinstated co-pays for reduced-price meals this summer, House Bill 1 from the 2020 regular legislative session eliminated those co-pays in New Mexico. 

That means about 57,000 New Mexico students who qualify for reduced-price school meals will continue eating for free – along with 180,000 students who qualify for free school meals. That’s about 71% of the state’s K-12 enrollment.

For students who don’t qualify for any meal assistance, the maximum co-pay for a school meal is just 40 cents.


Ensuring the health and safety of our school communities remains a priority this year. While COVID-19 remains a concern, the availability of vaccines for every New Mexican 6 months and older has mitigated the severity of the disease in most cases. That led the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue new guidance this week that recommends but does not require practices like social distancing, surveillance testing and quarantining for close contacts in most cases.

The state followed today with a new Public Health Order that clears the way for additional changes in the Public Education Department’s COVID-19 Response Toolkit for Public Schools. The department is already working on an updated toolkit to align with the CDC guidance and the new health order.

As another safety precaution, the Public Education Department is again offering – free of charge – a panic button that any educator can use to summon help and alert others in case of an emergency. The Rave Panic Button app allows users to simultaneously connect with 9-1-1 and first responders and send an alert to on-site staff in the event of an emergency.

As of this month, 440 public schools have opted-in to the RAVE panic button app, and 158 have used the app in a live drill or staff training/testing scenario.


The New Mexico Legislature invested $1.24 million this year to offer every K-12 student and educator a full-access, one-year license to more than 20 digital apps to design, create and learn.

The department’s Create New Mexico program is providing student and educator licenses to Adobe Creative Cloud, which includes popular apps like Photoshop, Premiere, InDesign and many others, to strengthen classroom participation and prepare digitally literate students who are able to use technology in their future academic pursuits and careers.

District and school leaders interested can still opt in if they haven’t already.


The Public Education Department is working now to hire an attendance improvement coordinator to work with districts and charter schools to reduce the number of students who are chronically absent – defined as missing 10% or more of school days. In the 2020-21 school year, 29.6% of New Mexico students were chronically absent. (The 2021-22 rate is not yet available.)

“We know the pandemic was largely responsible for the high absenteeism rate, but that shouldn’t be a big factor this year,” said Anne Marlow-Geter, interim director of the department’s Safe and Healthy Schools Bureau. “We’re no longer requiring students to isolate if they’re close contacts to a COVID-19 case because at this stage of the pandemic, we know we can keep kids in school — where they need to be — safely.” 

The Attendance for Success Act requires school districts and charter schools to keep accurate daily attendance records for every instructional class or school program – including during remote learning. That data is submitted to the Public Education Department four times throughout each academic year.

Each district and charter school is also required to submit an Attendance Success Plan that identifies tiered strategies to address chronic absenteeism. Chronic absence rates are auto-populated for each reporting period in the Attendance Success Plans to assist districts and schools in monitoring their attendance data and establishing attendance improvement targets.

“The Public Education Department is working with schools and nonprofits to fully implement the Attendance for Success Act and to implement other initiatives to improve school attendance to pre-pandemic levels,” Marlow-Geter said..


A number of initiatives launched just before and during the pandemic to improve student math and reading achievement are expected to begin showing results this year. Those initiatives include:

  • Structured literacy. Every New Mexico teacher in grades K-2 has now started training in the Science of Reading, a body of research that identified a series of best practices known as “structured literacy” to help children learn to read and improve reading skills. Third-grade teachers will begin the two-year training course this school year. 
  • Extended learning time. Thirty-one New Mexico districts and 12 state charter schools received planning grants this summer totaling $21 million to prepare for adding hours or days to school calendars, a proven strategy to improve academic outcomes. Together they serve about 95,000 New Mexico students.   
  • Accelerated learning. The Public Education Department’s Roadmap to Accelerated Learning, issued in spring 2021, provided educators with goals and guidance to mitigate pandemic-related learning gaps while keeping students on grade-level tasks.


The department did not set a specific one-year goal for improving the graduation rate, which was 76.9% in 2021, but Steinhaus wants to see that needle move again, too.

New Mexico’s graduation rate has been trending upward, from 63% in 2011 to 77% in 2021. But the state still lags the national average of 86%. To keep students in high school until they graduate, the Public Education Department believes the entire high school experience must change to be more apparently relevant to students. 

To that end, the department this summer named 20 New Mexico high schools “Innovation Zones” and provided grants to help them re-envision the high school experience with a greater focus on community partnerships, work based learning and Career and Technical Education courses. The goal is to model best practices and spread them across the state.

“Career-connected learning is critical in order for students to see the relevance of high school,” said Elaine Perea, director of the department’s College and Career Readiness Bureau. “Students who take two or more aligned CTE courses in a program of study that is relevant to employers in their community graduate at rates exceeding 95%. Getting more students access to these experiences is essential for our push to increase degree attainment rates,” she said.

Check for back-to-school events near you.