Published: 1:00 pm, Tue. May. 10th, 2016Updated: 2:34 pm
A survey of available instruction time at public schools across New Mexico has found that a third of the hours are lost to a combination of standardized assessments, test preparation, re-teaching distracted students, absences, disciplinary actions and other activities.
Staff analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee presented the findings to lawmakers Tuesday at the state capitol. The survey of teachers and principals found that late starts, recess and subsidized breakfasts also offset instructional time while being counted as productive learning hours.
In all, students lose 32 percent of instructional time per year. Elementary students lose well over a third of instructional time, while their school year can be nearly 10 percent shorter under current state requirements.
The study provided new statistical evidence that student achievement decreases as instructional time is consumed by other activities and said the state has no comprehensive system for keeping track of how much time is spent on learning.
“New Mexico does not have a comprehensive framework for measuring available learning time,” the study stated. “The majority of teachers in New Mexico indicate having received little to any professional development” in the area.
The New Mexico Public Education Department said in a written response that the study failed to consider the value of work by highly effective teachers during formal teaching sessions and in between.
“The evaluation’s absolute focus on instructional time discounts the value a highly effective teacher can add to some of these important non-classroom activities,” the agency said.
The Education Department also highlighted efforts already underway to reduce truancy and said breakfasts during school hours deserve to count as instructional time when nutrition lessons are included. Legislation approved this year allows schools to provide breakfast before school hours, even on buses.
New Mexico has increased teaching time in high-poverty schools in recent years by extending the school year for 25 days in kindergarten through third grade.
More than 19,000 students from low-income families participate, out of nearly 340,000 students enrolled in New Mexico public schools. The study encouraged the state to invest more funds in that effort.
About 10 days of instructional time is lost each year to preparations for standardized testing, the study said. Up to 2 percent of instructional time — about 21 hours of four school days — is lost to the administration of standardized student assessments, not including New Mexico’s PARCC exam. The PARCC test was often followed by extended recess hours, watching movies and playing games, the survey found.
The study suggested that the Education Department provide an audit of how much time is spent on testing and preparations.
It also examined early release days at several major school districts and found they can contribute to an inefficient use of time, noting that the state does not require districts to justify the practice.
Surveys were sent to all public and charter school teachers and principals. The Legislative Finance Committee received responses from 4,800 public and charter school teachers, or about one in five statewide, and 370 principals, or one out of three. A dozen superintendents from larger school districts were interviewed.
New Mexico schools count as instructional time the hours spent in recess or missed hours from delayed openings due to extreme weather. Lunch is not included.
The study recommends discontinuing the practice of counting parent-teacher conferences and home visits as instructional time. It recommended extending the elementary school year to the same length as middle and high school.