Arizona’s Reading Scores Match Pre-Pandemic Levels, Math Scores Mirror National Trends
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic showing Arizona students are at, or close to, the national average in math and reading. Arizona students held steady in NAEP’s reading scores comparing spring 2019 to spring 2022. Arizona students declined in math from 2019 to 2022, in line with national trends.
The new NAEP scores largely align with recently released statewide assessment data. State assessments showed small but noticeable gains from last year among most students in Arizona, but have not yet fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. Arizona’s statewide assessment scores, given each spring, have more closely aligned with NAEP since 2015, when more rigorous testing was introduced. State tests before 2015 painted an overly inflated picture of student academic achievement when compared to NAEP scores.
NAEP data also showed Arizona students are regionally competitive with students in bordering states Nevada, California, and New Mexico and rank in the top half of the country in all categories for growth on the 10-year trend. NAEP samples students from each state in 4th and 8th grades for math and reading every two years. NAEP does not provide district-level data in Arizona.
“While the effects of the pandemic on student learning are well-documented, Arizona’s educators and students are resilient. And our test scores, particularly in reading, show that,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. “Despite challenges during the pandemic, our families and educators worked together to accelerate student learning. While we still have considerable work to do to grow math scores, it is encouraging to see our students close to the national average.”
On NAEP’s 10-year growth trend, Arizona did well in reading and scored above the national average in math. Compared to ten years ago, Arizona students ranked 4th in test score average growth in grade 4 reading and 6th among all states in grade 8 reading. During the same period, Arizona ranked 16th in grade 4 math and 20th in grade 8 math growth rankings.
ADE has distributed tens of millions of federal relief dollars directly to programs designed to accelerate learning. Investments included $9.6 million to support ASU Prep Digitals’ Math Momentum aimed at bolstering middle school math outcomes, a $20 million partnership with DonorsChoose to supply classroom grants for educators to create engaging lessons for students, and $6.5 million to provide no-cost access for teachers and students to Discovery Education’s high-quality, Arizona-standards aligned learning content. The Department also assisted schools as they spent one-time federal aid on resources and staff to meet their students’ individual needs.
COVID hit Arizona particularly hard, as the state ranked 15th in cases per capita and 2nd in deaths per capita since the start of the pandemic. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, Arizona students performed slightly better than California and Nevada in scores and led New Mexico by at least 10 points in each category.
However, state leaders are again risking massive funding cuts to district schools that could result in school closures or a shortened academic year in the spring. In a July letter to Governor Ducey and legislative leaders, Superintendent Hoffman called on them to lift the outdated Aggregate Expenditure Limit (AEL) spending cap.
“The pandemic exacerbated a dire shortage of highly qualified educators in our classrooms. We must continue to increase teacher pay and improve working conditions to retain qualified educators. That starts by letting our district schools spend the full amount allocated for this school year,” Superintendent Hoffman continued. “As we look to the next ten years, we must ensure all Arizona students are taught by adequately supported, highly qualified teachers in safe learning environments. Together we know this will foster an environment of engaged learners and strong academic outcomes.”