By John R. Roby, data editor | October 31, 2018
We fact-checked 8 claims she made during her two campaigns
"The measure of our success," Gov. Susana Martinez said in 2010, shortly before winning her first term, "will be when New Mexico children have an opportunity to receive a quality education that allows them to chase their dreams."
As voters prepare to elect a new governor, it's time to take that measure.
Searchlight New Mexico examined eight education-related claims and promises Martinez made during her two successful campaigns for governor. Most of those claims and promises came from versions of her 2010 and 2014 campaign websites dating from the week before each gubernatorial election, which we reviewed on the Library of Congress digital campaign archives. One claim is featured on her current personal website.
We used publicly available data from state, federal and nonprofit sources to test the truth behind each claim, and whether New Mexico has managed to move the needle since Martinez made it.
Claim: "Gov. Martinez is especially focused on ensuring every child can read by the third grade."
From: Martinez' 2014 campaign website Rating: Unconvincing
PARCC reading scores have nudged up since 2015, but fewer than 1 in 3 third-graders are scoring "proficient" or above. The percentage is even lower for economically disadvantaged students, English language learners and students with disabilities.
Claim: New Mexico ranks at the bottom of educational performance as compared to other states, despite spending more money per student.
From: Martinez' 2010 campaign website Rating: Misleading
The results that Martinez cited during her first campaign came from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and did in fact place New Mexico students’ performance at the bottom of the barrel. The state's ranking declined even further since then relative to the rest of the nation.
But her claim was misleading: It implied New Mexico was above the national median for per-pupil spending in 2010, when in fact the state was No. 32. As of 2016 — the latest year for which data are available — New Mexico had slid to No. 38 in per-pupil spending, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Claim: "New Mexico is No. 1 in the nation when it comes to improving graduation rates."
From: Martinez' 2014 campaign website Rating: Partly true
New Mexico's overall graduation rate improved during Martinez' tenure, rising from 67 percent in 2010 to 71 percent in 2017, according to the state's Public Education Department. But New Mexico currently ranks 50th among the states, ahead of only the District of Columbia, which graduated 69 percent of high-schoolers that year. The national average was 84 percent.
The overall graduation rate also hides a persistent achievement gap: Subgroups of New Mexico's high-schoolers perform worse than the whole.
Only 68 percent of English language learners graduated high school in 2017, and 66 percent of economically disadvantaged students graduated, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. New Mexico's Hispanic graduation rate was 70.5 percent — about the same as the overall rate, but still 45th among the states.
Claim: "New Mexico is now spending more money in the classroom than ever before."
From: Martinez' 2014 campaign website Rating: True
By almost any measure, New Mexico's spending on education rose to historic highs under Martinez.
In 2010, the state appropriated $2.28 billion for schools, a figure that rose $410 million, to $2.69 billion, in 2018. Total dollars to fund early literacy, pre-K, K-3 Plus, STEM enrichment, advanced placement classes and school breakfast increased from $48 million to $88 million.
Claim: "New Mexico’s Hispanic students are leading the nation when it comes to taking and passing advanced placement courses."
From: Martinez' 2014 campaign website Rating: False
Course-level data broken down by ethnicity are not available. But AP courses culminate in AP exams, and there are solid numbers on those from the College Board, which administers them.
According to the College Board, nearly 1.1 million Hispanic/Latino students took AP exams nationwide in 2017. They earned an average score of 2.39 on the exam's 1-5 grading scale. With a 3 being the minimum passing grade, that means that 42.3 percent of those students passed.
In New Mexico, 9,900 Hispanic students took AP exams in 2017, with an average score of 2.06, and 30.2 percent passed with a 3 or higher.
Claim: Martinez will "continue investing in reform efforts that lift up struggling students and schools, better engage parents in their child’s education, reward teachers for their success in the classroom, and graduate more New Mexico students."
From: Martinez' 2014 campaign website Rating: Mostly false
Some of this claim cannot be directly measured, but Martinez clearly saw her efforts as aimed at increasing high school graduation. In that sense, the claim is true. More New Mexico high-schoolers graduated in her last year in office than in her first year, both in percentage and in raw numbers. According to PED, there were 26,490 students in the 2010 high school graduating cohort, of which 67 percent got a diploma. In 2017, there were 26,587 in the graduating cohort, and 71 percent graduated.
Yet this summer's decision in the Yazzie v. State of New Mexico lawsuit casts a long shadow over Martinez' record on education. The case presented nearly a decade of evidence that the state's public schools are not only failing children, but that children will be "irreparably harmed" if schools aren’t improved. In a blistering ruling, First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton rejected the Martinez administration's claims that education is improving for the state's children.
Claim: Martinez "Raised the salary of starting teachers by 6.7 percent and offered new training and support to thousands of teachers."
From: Martinez' 2014 campaign website Rating: Mostly false
State law sets the minimum salary for teachers by experience level. That figure was $30,000 when Martinez' tenure began. Legislators have raised salaries for entry-level teachers twice, most recently in the 2018 session, setting it at $36,000.
Yet most entry-level teachers are paid more than that because districts set their own salaries, so long as they are at or above the state floor. That is a local decision, outside both the legislature and the governor's control. According to PED, the average salary for an entry-level teacher in 2010 was $45,218, which rose 5.4 percent to an estimated $47,638 in 2017.
Claim: When Martinez took office, New Mexico had "chronically underperforming schools." The governor enacted "bold education reforms that resulted in the highest graduation rates in state history and unprecedented improvement in student test scores."
From: Martinez' current personal website Rating: Partly true
New Mexico began assigning annual A-F letter grades to each school in 2012. The grades are closely tied to improvements in test scores, according to PED. Compared with the first year of letter grading, more schools earned A's in 2018, but even more earned F's.
We quantified the difference between the 2012 and 2018 letter grades by assigning 5 points for an "A," 4 points for a "B," and so on, and averaging each year's score.
This shows very modest statewide improvement. The average score in 2012 was 3.01 — or a very low "C" — versus 3.02 in 2018.
Are New Mexico's students making "unprecedented" gains in test scores? PARCC scores have generally risen since the Common Core-aligned exams were launched in 2015, yet up to 90 percent of some student groups continue to score below "proficient."
In 2014, 52 percent of third-graders scored proficient or above on the state reading exam that PARCC replaced the following year. The change to Common Core-aligned testing was contentious in New Mexico and elsewhere, with other states seeing similar drops in scores, as well as large and vocal opt-out movements.