Student achievement scores are mixed, but Arizona is still moving up

The 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) saw mixed results for Arizona student achievement.

NAEP, a project of the National Center for Education Statistics, has given academic exams to representative samples of students in all 50 states since 2003. The exams cover fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading, and occasionally other academic subjects. NAEP released new results for 2019 on Oct. 30, and news proved bad nationally and mixed in Arizona.

Between 2017 and 2019, Arizona students had a statistically significant improvement in fourth-grade mathematics and a decline in eighth-grade reading, while fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math results remained statistically unchanged. These short-run results, on net, are nothing to celebrate nor to lament, especially when examining the trends in other states.

NAEP 8th Grade Math and Reading Gains for FRL Eligible Students (2019 minus 2009 FRL scores)

Taking a broader look over the last decade, Arizona stands as one of the few states showing progress over time.

The chart above tracks eighth-grade math and reading gains and losses from 2009 to 2019 for Free and Reduced Lunch-eligible students. As you can see, a majority of states saw declines in both math and reading for these students (lower left quadrant). Arizona stands among a minority of states with improvement in both eighth-grade math and reading.

Taking the lens back to the beginning of when NAEP began testing in all 50 states allows us to track Arizona’s rise across student subgroups. The figure below sequentially shows eighth-grade math scores for 2003 and then 2019 for Anglo students, then Hispanic students in 2003 and 2019, and then Black students in 2003 and 2019. Some states did not have a sufficiently large Hispanic or Black population to report scores and thus are not included.

NAEP Scores by Race

In 2019, Arizona’s Anglo, Hispanic and Black students were all demonstrating a mastery of mathematics approximately equal to what their 2003 peers would have landed as ninth-graders. Because of these gains, Arizona’s Anglo students ranked 10th, our Hispanic students ranked 20th and our Black students ranked fourth on eighth-grade math, compared to their peers in other states.

Arizona was also one of only a handful of states to show academic progress for students with disabilities over the last decade. The figure below shows that, while Arizona students with disabilities made progress on eighth-grade math, the trend in a large majority of states showed declines in scores. The trend is the same for Arizona and nationally with regards to eighth-grade reading.

NAEP 8th Grade Math for Students with Disabilities, 2019 minus 2009 scores

Arizona has a lot of work yet to do in order to build a world-class system of education.

We’ve faced huge challenges over the past decade. We will face new challenges in the decade that looms ahead. We do, however, have a decade of improvement at our backs.

Matthew Ladner

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