SANTA FE — The Public Education Department announced Friday it has accounted for almost 5,000 of the 12,000-plus New Mexico students who were enrolled in public schools last spring but not this fall and were feared to be outside the educational system.
Most of the 4,926 students are being home-schooled, are enrolled in private or Bureau of Indian Education schools, or have moved out of state. Others switched school districts or withdrew for reasons like pregnancy or to pursue a GED, Deputy Secretaries Katarina Sandoval and Gwen Perea Warniment told the Legislative Education Study Committee.
“A large number of students we previously identified as disengaged were on that list because the data in our system doesn’t show where that student is currently enrolled,” Sandoval said. “We want to track each student down. If they are attending private school, it is critical that we receive and verify that information to make sure the child is in school and safe. If a student isn’t attending school, then it’s essential that we determine what resources the student needs and get them that support.”
The PED and partner agencies continue to cross-check databases to locate and reach out to families of the remaining 7,260 students who are currently unaccounted for to assess their well-being and determine their current and future educational plans.
School districts are required to report attendance and enrollment figures to the PED at regular intervals, beginning in late October. Typically, that “40-day” attendance data would go through a weeks-long scrubbing process to ensure accuracy before being released to the public in early December. This year, PED released the unverified figure much earlier due to growing public concern about a decrease in school enrollment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The original 12,186 number began dwindling when the data was cross-checked with a database of students who are being homeschooled. That turned up 1,741 of the unaccounted for students. Further analysis found students on the list who had withdrawn due to pregnancy or to pursue GEDs, who were incarcerated, who transferred to private or Bureau of Indian Education schools or who had died.
Next, the PED’s database is being cross-checked this week with more current data held by 13 of the state’s most densely populated school districts. That process accounted for 3,185 additional students on the list of 12,000 and will account for more students as this process continues.
Combined, these districts account for the vast majority of the 12,000-plus students who were enrolled in New Mexico public schools last spring but not this fall.
Accounting for all New Mexico students is a priority effort for the PED, school districts and four other state agencies: Children, Youth and Families; Early Childhood Education and Care; Human Services, and Indian Affairs. The Graduation Alliance, under contract with PED, is another partner.
“This has been an all-hands-on-deck effort. Locating these students, supporting all their needs the best we can and getting them re-engaged ASAP is a top priority,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.
School districts have been working since August to find their disenrolled students, and that effort continues. For example, Los Alamos Public Schools reported a decrease of more than 200 students from March to October. This week, Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus said all had been accounted for, with 101 in homeschool and 112 enrolled in another school district or private school.
“It’s a huge relief to know these students are safe and receiving educational services. The school districts and charter schools involved have done a tremendous job in verifying that,” Stewart said.
PED and its partner, the Graduation Alliance, kicked off the state-level outreach two weeks ago by mailing letters to every name on the list. As of Thursday, 738 families had responded — a 6 percent response rate, which is above industry standard for an external survey. Of those, 624 students are still in New Mexico and 114 families have moved out of state.
The survey responses found only 21 students receiving no schooling at all. Three of those have requested an academic coach through Engage NM to help them get re-enrolled. Outreach to the others continues.
New Mexico reacted very early in the pandemic to support students and families who were transitioning to online learning for the first time. The result was Engage NM, a tiered system created in April by the PED and Graduation Alliance to support districts and charter schools with students who weren’t logging into school.
Districts that opted into the program refer their students who are struggling or disengaged; Engage NM provides them with a personal academic coach to help them overcome social, emotional and academic barriers preventing school success.
This fall only, New Mexico school districts have referred 32,348 students to Engage NM. Engage counselors have contacted 12,400 families so far, with 9,400 families opting in to coaching.