Achievement Distributions and Fiscal Inequalities in New Mexico Public Schools

Last Updated: January 01, 2004

Rural Trust Publication, New Mexico, School Finance, Jerry Johnson, RT Policy Department, Report, PDF achievement_distrib_th.jpg Achievement_Distributions_and_Fiscal_Inequality_in_New_Mexico_Public_School_Districts
Achievement Distributions and Fiscal Inequalities in New Mexico Public Schools

Report PDF (213 KB)
By Jerry Johnson, State Policy Studies Manager

Researchers, policymakers, taxpayers, and others have wondered whether “money matters” in the academic achievement of public school students—in other words, do the schools and districts that receive the most (in terms of financial resources) produce the most (in terms of measurable student achievement)? This issue is particularly pressing at the district level of performance, because districts are the recipients of state aid and the unit of analysis for determining whether state funding systems are adequate and/or equitable.

In an effort to explore whether “money matters” in New Mexico, this study analyzes the relationship between student achievement and fiscal resources among school districts. In considering these relationships, it is important to recognize that the cost of providing an adequate education may vary with the socioeconomic characteristics of the district, and that other factors may affect the relationship between achievement patterns and fiscal resources—that is, districts that serve higher percentages of students who face nonacademic barriers to high achievement (poverty, limited English language skills, etc.) require additional financial resources to “level the playing field” for their students. With that in mind, the study also includes socioeconomic characteristics of school districts and their communities in the analysis. Findings suggest that the distribution of financial resources throughout the state does in fact mirror the distribution of student achievement, and in ways that place school systems serving the most challenged student populations in the unenviable position of attempting to do more for their students with fewer resources available for use.

For this analysis, we computed a composite achievement index for each system by aggregating studentweighted performance on two consecutive years (2002-2003 and 2003-2004) of New Mexico’s standardsbased (or criterion-referenced) reading and math assessments at grades 4 and 8. The index reported for each system reflects the total percentage of proficient or advanced student scores for that two year period. The research included all public, non-charter districts that were operational in the school year 2003-2004, a total of 89. Four of those 89 systems (House, Maxwell, Mosquero, and Vaughn) were excluded because they lacked achievement data (to protect student confidentiality, the state does not report achievement scores when the testing cohort includes fewer than 10 students). All data used in this study were provided by the New Mexico Department of Education, the National Center for Educational Statistics, and the U.S. Census Bureau and are available to the general public.

We first divided the 89 systems into two groups: those scoring at or above the state average on the composite achievement measure (high-achieving), and those scoring below state average (low-achieving). To determine the highest and lowest-achieving systems in the state, we then divided the low-achieving group into two subgroups based on the student-weighted group average (with those systems below the student-weighted average comprising the lowest-achieving category) and the high-achieving group into two sub-groups based on the student-weighted group average (with those systems at or above the student-weighted average comprising the highest-achieving category). To allow for roughly equal sizes, the Albuquerque Public School System was excluded from the analyses. Based on its composite achievement index, Albuquerque ranks above the state average but below the average for the high-achieving category.

Results from comparisons between high-achieving and low-achieving districts suggest the presence of a relationship between funding levels and student academic outcomes in New Mexico. The same relationship was even more apparent in a comparison of highest- and lowest-achieving districts. As a means of further investigating the possibility that money matters--and more particularly, that money matters in raising the achievement levels of students who face the greatest challenges, an additional comparison was conducted. We began by dividing districts at the state average for free and reduced meal rate into high-poverty and low poverty groups. We then identified the districts with meal rates above the high-poverty group average group average to create a category for highest poverty. The highest poverty category was then divided at the average composite achievement score to create high-poverty/high-achieving and high-poverty/low-achieving. These two groups were then compared.

In an ancillary analysis, we compared districts participating in the ENLACE program (including the Northern NM and Southern NM programs, but excluding Albuquerque) with the state’s highest achieving districts.